Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Another Problem with Theatre Criticism

Another problem with theatre criticism, it seems to me, can be neatly encapsulated by an examination of Adam Feldman's review of A Bronx Tale. Unlike my views of Stewie's reviews -- in which I not only often disagree with the substance of the criticism but find that the substance has been torn asunder by a streak of vituperative bitterness -- I generally agree with Adam's reviews, meaning that I do not find substance being surrendered to cleverness. To me, though, A Bronx Tale slips as quality criticism a bit. His lede: "Nearly 20 years ago, when Chazz Palminteri first performed A Bronx Tale, many people assumed that this coarse, morally stunted solo play was a work of autobiographical nonfiction." I'm not clear that he was there 20 years ago; certainly he wasn't a critic. Frank Rich had nifty ways of clearing this hurdle -- he'd write that such-and-such element "recalls" some other element or he would otherwise artfully acknowledge that he hadn't seen the original production of Medea.

The meat of the matter for this post, however, concerns Feldman aiming at how the "risible climactic sequence involves, in immediate succession: a hate crime, a breakup, two murder plots, a rescue, a reconciliation, a fatal fireball, an assassination, a silent-scream sequence and an anguished cry of 'Nooooooo!'" He cries, "This is not a slice of life. This is a slice of processed cheese," and I do hear him -- in my New York Press review of the play, I wrote, "Credulity is stretched a little, sure, and I do wonder whether all of these things could have really happened—or maybe Palminteri’s well-told tale was just a little tall." The problem is that old nemesis, that old devil incarnate, suspension of disbelief. If we don't believe Cyrano or any man could have had a nose that size, Rostand's climax is risible, too. If we argue with regard to Long Day's Journey that all of those conversations, all of those confessions, all of those concerns, all of those discoveries, all of those speculations and emotional disfigurements, all of those cataclysms and superlative arias could not possibly have occurred within the space of a single day, O'Neill's best play (some say) is fruitless to fathom.

And this is the challenge critics face: What is the tripwire for dramatic plausibility? I'd argue that Adam may have one tripwire and I another -- vive le difference, as they say. To demean A Bronx Tale because it may indulge in literary or dramatic liberties with a set of known facts for for the purposes of storytelling, however, has to be viewed as a little bit hypocritical; O'Neill did rather the same thing.

In one of my graduate school classes, I raged about the utter improbability of Oedipus Rex -- it's ridiculous to expect anyone (except perhaps the Greeks) to believe that everything that happens to Oedipus happens in a single day. (We also know it's a single day because Aristotle argues that the play is the premier example of tragedy in the Poetics, and tragedy, he states, requires a unity of time.) Yet if we actively refuse to succumb to the ridiculousness -- if we relegate improbabilities and implausibilities to a status of being "risible" -- we effectively deny ourselves the opportunity to burrow underneath these tricky dramatic caverns and experience something satisfying, both as general audience members and specifically as critics.

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A Couple of Additional Book Images

This is the last until we publish, I swear.

This is Harrigan's Theatre, later called the Garrick, now demolished:

Ah, the extraordinary Mrs. Gilbert

The interior of the legendary Fifth Avenue Theatre, also demolished. This photo was shot by Berenice Abbott in the 1930s as part of the Federal Theatre Project

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Mark Ravenhill's Prescription for Theatre Criticism

I had an initial reaction after I read Mark Ravenhill's pseudo-bloggy-op-ed today, and I thought about writing a response that would have demonstrated that writing a book this past summer has not dimmed my affection for fire and brimstone. But for some reason -- inertia? the meds kicking in? -- I decided to wait and re-read the piece tonight. Mr. Clyde is watching the news in the bedroom and I'm here at my desk enjoying the quiet and reflecting on what Ravenhill wrote, and I think I have some non-brimstone thoughts that might be useful for discussion.

Because it's probably not politically intelligent of me to write too much about the inner workings and doings of Back Stage, I'm going to disclose the following in the name of furthering Ravenhill's discussion -- also, the following isn't all that proprietary. When we were overhauling the east and west coast print products and the website, one of the things we looked at was our theatre coverage. We asked and attempted to answer a lot of questions: How much theatre should we cover (thus: what should our budget be and what can we afford)? How much space, in print or on line, should be alloted to our theatre reviews? Should they be of standard length or should they vary? If they vary in length, who decides? What are the determinants? Are there new determinants, new methodologies, new approaches that are worth investigating (sorry if this seems like academese)? Is there recourse for critics, higher-up editors, and companies and productions that disagree with the editorial decisions reached -- or should there be? What is Back Stage's obligation (or any publication's obligation) to the artist? I'll touch on some of these in a moment.

Let me say that I think Ravenhill's point is well-taken: it's ridiculous to argue that the revival of Grease on Broadway, just to take a local example, is worth as much real/virtual ink as Vanessa Redgrave in The Year of the Magical Thinking. However, let's equally acknowledge that there's something uncomfortably highbrow about the argument. Who is to say that the performers and technicians and designers of Grease -- people who see themselves as artists just as Redgrave, Hare and Didion do -- are not artists at all? To what degree should assigning editors be in the business of playing the tastemaker: "that musical is a piece of middlebrow, mainstream, over-revived crap, so let's give it 200 words by a mediocre writer" vs. "that play is a piece of highbrow, elitist refinement, and it's a new play so let's give it 600 words"? These are rhetorical questions, of course, that are important to ask, debate and discuss.

Now, if my job involved assigning theatre reviews at Back Stage (it isn't), I personally would not have a problem playing the tastemaker -- I rather think that what Ravenhill is getting at actually harkens back to a more old-fashioned ethos of journalism that is out of favor. Like Ravenhill, I don't think all theatre is created equal; even if you had an environment in which an editor could leverage unlimited resources (budgets, time, writers, space), that still doesn't mean all theatre intrinsically demands the same attention.

At the same time, there's something to be said for diversifying coverage, and I'll explain what I mean by this in a moment. Before I do, let's note that Ravenhill is not a critic or an editor or an assigning editor and I think it shows in his argument: it's very much "I'm a serious playwright and I deserve more column inches than that crappy musical over there." Not to beat the proverbial horse, but Ravenhill doesn't consider that all those people involved in that crappy musical think they're artists -- and since it is likely that it'll be their show running for years and years, not his; that it'll be their show generating advance sales of millions of dollars, not his, it's all the more reason why the crappy show should (perhaps must) be covered. News is news, and ignoring the elephant in the room doesn't mean it isn't there.

Ravenhill also need to distinguish between types of publications. If you're The New Yorker, for example, you can argue it's much better to have Hilton Als or John Lahr devoting more column inches to richer fare than Grease -- if you count up the column inches those men devote to the gloss and the dross, I think you'll find that to be the case. But Ravenhill isn't prattling on about magazines so much as major dailies, and here you're back to the whole question of how these publications are going to survive in this media-rich environment. The New York Times has to appeal to those readers who want their highbrow reviews of Broadway, their review of the art at the Metropolitan Museum, their reviews of the ballet and the symphony at Carnegie Hall, but they have little choice to appeal to those who want headbanging and poetry slams and Britney's new album and Grey's Anatomy and Taylor Mac.

Hence the argument that word counts should be (relatively) standardized, that the goal is to provide the most broad-based, diverse, anti-tastemaking-oriented coverage possible. Now, I'm quite aware that the Times is totally a tastemaker in NYC, and that has as much to do with perception as anything else. That's a debate for another post.

The real question to me is not whether coverage should ditch covering cheesy musicals so that we may cover edgy plays -- editorially robbing Peter to pacify Paul. Rather, there should be a larger conversation involving critics and artists (and editors) that begins addressing the same questions we found ourselves debating at Back Stage. This is hard stuff; I'm not suggesting we were especially successful. But at least the conversation happened.

Let me go back for a moment, since I implied there would be titillating Back Stage dish with this post. Basically it was me and a few others saying, once again, not all theatre is created equal, and therefore someone must decide what's worth 100, 300, 500, 700 words -- or no words. There was resistance to this, however -- resistance to the idea of playing editorial God. I understand the reasons for this -- one good one is a critic doesn't know the value of something until he or she sees it. And even then, of course, this is only one person's opinion -- is it really efficient or sensible to talk on the telephone after every critic sees every production in order to debate the merits of adding or removing 100 words? Seriously: no critic is going to write shorter reviews voluntarily so longer reviews can run elsewhere. That's just human nature.

To me, somebody's little known first-time-out-of-the-box revival of Marlowe should only get 200 words because, one presumes, they'll be back to offer another production; in the meantime, the 15th revival by the Keen Company, which has proven and time-tested its value, deserves 600 words; so does the new Stolen Chair show that everyone's talking about. To me, an editor ought to be able to make decisions based on instinct, on having been immersed in the field, on a sense of balancing coverage with the intention of being fair. Not everyone is comfortable with that, though, and I must say I do respect the opposing view. And that's the view that prevailed -- all our reviews are 300 words except for the first-string reviews (mine and David Sheward's), which can be 500-600. And yes, I see there's an inherent contradiction in that -- to Ravenhill's point. Absolutely, yes. I'm just shedding some light on how these things are dealt with.

So I guess I don't think the question is how and when and why we should penalize musicals in favor of Pinter (or Ravenhill). I think the question is to what degree major dailies (or trades) are willing to demonstrate the courage, the scope of vision, to look at the scene as a whole and pose creative questions regarding what they should cover and why. Sometimes, yes, that's going to mean covering Grease. Indeed, a decision not to cover Grease will never persuade people to see somebody's 16-hour Kabuki version of Mourning Becomes Electra. But smart editors will cover Mourning Becomes Electra in some way. Just not by punishing one genre to prop up another.

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The Genius List, a la the U.K. Telegraph

Check out this list of geniuses. That Stephen Sondheim was left off this list is why the British Empire has been shrinking for 50 years. For shame! Meanwhile, here are the some of the more amusing folk on the list:

Matt Groening, (American), Satirist & Animator
Dario Fo, (Italian), Writer & Dramatist
Harold Pinter, (British), Writer & Dramatist
Prince, (American), Musician
Richard Branson, (British), Publicist (????)
Meryl Streep, (American), Actress
Paul McCartney, (British), Musician
Leonard Cohen, (American), Poet & musician
Dolly Parton, (American), Singer
Morissey, (British), Singer
Quentin Tarantino, (American), Filmmaker

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Brian Cox: Opinionated and in Desperate Need of a Century-Check

I completely adore this New York magazine Q&A with Brian Cox, who is starring in Tom Stoppard's Rock 'n' Roll on Broadway (and before I go any further, I should probably disclose that I'm going to be reviewing it for Back Stage). However, Cox, toward the end of the piece, makes this comment about American theatre that makes absolutely no sense at all. "I always find the American theater is slightly locked in the nineteenth century," he says. "Everything is psychologically based."

Well, if he's referring to the so-called psychologically based theatre of the 19th century -- the rise of naturalism a la Zola, the rise of realism a la, they weren't American, if my memory serves.

Second, if American theatre was really stuck in the 19th century, I sure as heck wouldn't be endlessly fighting the good fight to make people understand why the likes of Clyde Fitch -- and of James A. Herne and Bronson Howard, of Dion Boucicault and Augustin Daly -- are important to a greater understanding of the American theatre. But then, he's Scottish.

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The Poop on Pulp

Saturday night I caught what I think was the final performance of Pulp (Mr. Comtois posted some photos here). And I really must say I had a ripping good time. Was very nice bumping into Mr. Matt Freeman there, and even another person, someone I won't name, turned out to be astonishingly civil.

Best of all -- wow, great show, kids. My darling Gyda Arbor played a variety of roles, although the last one -- as a torture victim literally being skinned alive -- was a little epidermis-raising, to say the least.

Lots of blood, screaming and truly the campiest zombie I've ever seen, was had by all.

Rawk, kids.

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Auschwitz Rhymes with "Cow Shvitz" But That's Not What This Post Is About

In all seriousness, this project sounds interesting (the text is the press release I received). And if anyone is offended by the post title, it really comes out of the fact that we had a (rather weirdly lighthearted) debate at Back Stage today as to whether the word Auschwitz could be rhymed. If a musical took place in China many years ago in a sauna, for example, would "Mao shvitz"? Stuff like that. Again, if anyone's offended, please forgive me.

36 Battery Place, New York, NY 10280
(646) 437-4200

October 30, 2007

Betsy Aldredge
(646) 437-4337

Abby R. Spilka
(646) 437-4333

at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust

NEW YORK, NY – In the wake of the Holocaust, destruction and misery elicited varied responses from Jews. Many cited their faith as a key element in their survival. For others, belief in God was quashed in the face of unprecedented pain and injustice. These two viewpoints come face to face in Rabbi Joseph Telushkin and David Brandes’ profound play The Quarrel, which will be presented on Wednesday, November 14 at 7 p.m. at the Museum of Jewish Heritage—A Living Memorial to the Holocaust. A discussion with playwright and popular author Rabbi Joseph Telushkin will follow the performance.

Based on the short story My Quarrel with Hersh Rasseyner by Chaim Grade, and adapted from the 1991 film by David Brandes, the play opens in Montreal in 1948. Two friends — Hersh an Orthodox rabbi, and Chaim, a secular Jewish writer — meet after years apart, each thinking the other had perished in the concentration camps. With the events of Auschwitz fresh in their minds, the two debate the role and relevance of religion in a post-Holocaust world.

In one heated moment the character Chaim says, “At Sinai, God made a covenant with the Jewish people. At Auschwitz, he broke it.” The character Hersh responds, “It wasn't God who built Auschwitz. It was man.” The result of these characters’ struggle to understand one another is a play that “reaches … hearts, minds, and, dare we say it, souls,” according to Back Stage critic Irene Backalenick.

Tickets to this event are $20 for adults, $15 for students and seniors, and $12 for members. Tickets may be purchased online at or by calling (646) 437-4202.

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin is the author of Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible, Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History, among other well received books including Why the Jews: The Reason for Anti-Semitism, which he co-authored with Dennis Prager.

About the Actors

Sam Guncler recently appeared in the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival’s Comedy of Errors, and led the cast of Winning at Theater Off Park in New York City. He has also appeared at Soho Rep, John Houseman Theatre, Theatre for the New City, Jewish Rep, and as a resident actor with the Phoenix Ensemble. His credits include Lenny, Sight Unseen, Prelude to a Kiss, The Two Gentlemen of Verona, The Normal Heart, I HATE HAMLET, and others.

Reuven Russell was trained at Carnegie Mellon and went on to receive his MFA at the prestigious Yale School of Drama. Highlights of his career include performances alongside Mickey Rooney and Donald O’Connor in Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys.

Avi Billet majored in Speech and Drama at Yeshiva University, where he was president of the Dramatics Society. He was a Spielberg Fellow for two of the four summers he served as director of the drama program in Camp Moshava. Last year he appeared in the Center for Jewish History’s reading of Salvaged Pages. Avi holds a MS and Rabbinic Ordination from Yeshiva University and is a writer, drama coach, and mohel. On stage, he has performed in Broadway Bound, The Quarrel, Mister Roberts, God's Favorite, among other works.

About the Museum
The Museum’s three-floor Core Exhibition educates people of all ages and backgrounds about the rich tapestry of Jewish life over the past century--before, during, and after the Holocaust. Current special exhibitions include From the Heart: The Photojournalism of Ruth Gruber, The Other Promised Land: Vacationing, Identity, and the Jewish-American Dream, and Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust. The Museum offers visitors a vibrant public program schedule in its Edmond J. Safra Hall. It is also home to Andy Goldsworthy’s memorial Garden of Stones, as well as James Carpenter’s Reflection Passage, Gift of The Gruss Lipper Foundation. The Museum receives general operating support from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, and is a founding member of the Museums of Lower Manhattan.

Betsy Aldredge
Public Relations Manager
Museum of Jewish Heritage-A Living Memorial to the Holocaust
36 Battery Place
New York, NY 10280
ph: 646.437.4337
fax: 646.437.4341

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Monday, October 29, 2007

Some Other Images From My Book

I couldn't resist posting some of the other images (of the 240 in total) from my book. Here's Lydia Thompson (to learn a little about her, click here):

And here's the Star Theatre, which was on 13th Street and Broadway, where the movie theatre gag-me-plex is today:

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We're Finally Back!

I know I said I'd start posting again on Oct. 22, but stuff to do with the book intervened. You may be tired of asking, by the way, "What's the book?" Well, here's the poop. Back in June, I was hired by a company called Turner Publishing to write a book profiling the Billy Rose Theatre Collection at the New York Public Library. The book, which is more or less a coffee table book, consists of 240 historical photos that will tell the story of Broadway from 1850 to 1970. Each image has a caption of 100-200 words, so it was, in the end, about a 36,000-word book and it took some time to complete, as you might imagine. Many of the library's images are already digitized and online. For example, the image below of Sarah Bernhardt can be found by accessing the digital galleries. Here, just for yuks, is the image:

Anyway, there are 239 other images, and while many of them were digitized and appropriate to the storytelling and accessible, many were not -- ultimately I spent the summer at the library pulling about 150 images.

In case you're curious, here's the list of the images:

Edwin and Junius Brutus Booth, The Black Crook, Niblo's Garden, The Black Crook chorus, Lydia Thompson, The Academy of Music, The Kiralfy brothers, Evangeline, The Shaughran/Boucicault, The Wallacks, Frank C. Bangs in Sardanapalus, Harrigan and Hart, Garrick Theatre, Augustin Daly and his company, Rehan/Drew/Dollars and Sense, Mrs. Gilbert, Henry E. Dixey/Adonis, The Black Hussar/Digby Bell, Monte Cristo, HMS Pinafore, Sarah Bernhardt, Edwin Booth, statue dedication, The Wife (DeMille and Belasco), Weber and Fields, Lillian Russell, The Amazons, Haverly's/Lyceum/Fourteenth Street, Civic Repertory, Minnie Maddern Fiske, Harrison Grey Fiske, Fifth Avenue Theatre, Broadway Theatre, Shenandoah/Allen/Henry Miller, Star Theatre, Clyde Fitch, Madison Square Theatre, Richard Mansfield, Charley's Aunt, Lady Windermere's Fan, William Winter, Maude Adams/Little Minister, Francis Wilson, Julia Marlowe, Joseph Jefferson and W.J. Florence, Nat C. Goodwin, Della May Fox, John Drew, Maude Adams in Christopher, Jr., George M. Cohan/The Four Cohans, A.L. Erlanger, J.J. Shubert, Oscar Hammerstein I, Mrs. Leslie Carter, Ben-Hur, Ziegfeld Follies of 1907, Liberty Theatre, Maxine Elliott, Maxine Elliott Theatre, Ferdinand Gottschalk, Amelia Bingham, Olga Nethersole in Sapho, Clara Bloodgood, Elsie De Wolfe, Ethel Barrymore, Empire Theatre, Sothern and Marlowe, Century Theatre, Florodora, Casino Theatre, Lyceum 45th Street, Maude Adams/Peter Pan, Babes in Toyland, The Merry Widow, New Amsterdam Theatre, Thalia/Bowery Theatre, In Dahomey, Bates & Arliss in Darling of the Gods, Girl of the Golden West/Bates, Frances Starr and Belasco, The New York Idea, Eleonora Duse, Sherlock Holmes, Within the Law, Eltinge Theatre, Androcles and the Lion, Lewis Waller, A Night with the Pierrots, L. Taylor/Peg O My Heart, Cort Theatre, Florenz Ziegfeld, Vernon and Irene Castle, Frank Tinney in Watch Your Step, Marilyn Miller, Passing Show of 1915, Rachel Crothers, Alla Nazimova, Nazimova's 39th Street Theatre, Very Good Eddie, Edgar Selwyn, Major Barbara, Playhouse Theatre, Oh, Lady! Lady!, Lightnin', Doris Eaton (Travis), Actors Strike of 1919, Clarence, Heartbreak House, Beyond the Horizon, Morosco Theatre, Sally, Charles Gilpin in The Emperor Jones, Katherine Cornell in the Age of Innocence, Shuffle Along, Sketch of the set of Richard III, John Barrymore in Hamlet, R.U.R., Jeanne Eagels in Rain, Owen Davis/Icebound, The Adding Machine, Moscow Art Theatre, The Show Off, Outward Bound, What Price Glory?, Plymouth Theatre, Beggar on Horseback, Rose-Marie, Imperial Theatre, The Student Prince, They Knew What They Wanted, The Guardsmen, No No Nanette, Marx Brothers, Oh, Kay!, Civic Repertory Theatre, Broadway, Strange Interlude, Show Boat, Alvin Theatre, A Connecticut Yankee, Dracula, Helen Hayes, Whoopie!, The Front Page, Times Square Theatre, Machinal, Strictly Dishonorable, Street Scene, Porgy, Guild Theatre, Once in a Lifetime, Music Box Theatre, Girl Crazy, Garrick Gaieties, Elizabeth the Queen, The Band Wagon, Of Thee I Sing, Private Lives, Katherine Cornell, The House of Connelly, Martin Beck Theatre, Mourning Becomes Electra, Ruth Draper, As Thousands Cheer, Design for Living, Men in White, Ethel Barrymore Theatre, Tobacco Road, Theatre Masque/John Golden, Four Saints in Three Acts, Anything Goes, The Children's Hour, Waiting for Lefty, Longacre Theatre, Winterset, Idiot's Delight, Shubert Theatre, Amphitryon 38, Jumbo, Victoria Regina, Hamlet, Red Hot and Blue, Federal Theatre Project or Living Newspaper, Orson Welles, On Your Toes, The Women, Susan and God, Our Town, The Philadelphia Story, The Little Foxes, Life with Father, The Time of Your Life, The Man Who Came to Dinner, Cabin in the Sky, The Corn is Green, Romeo and Juliet, Pal Joey, Arsenic and Old Lace, Angel Street, The Skin of Our Teeth, Lady in the Dark, The Voice of the Turtle, Oklahoma!, Othello, One Touch of Venus, Harvey, On the Town, Carousel, The Glass Menagerie, Born Yesterday, The Iceman Cometh, Annie Get Your Gun, Finian's Rainbow, A Streetcar Named Desire, Medea, Cole Porter in lieu of Kiss Me, Kate, Death of a Salesman, Guys and Dolls, The Member of the Wedding, Lili Palmer in Caesar and Cleopatra, The Crucible, Wonderful Town, Tea and Sympathy, Picnic, The Pajama Game, Damn Yankees, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, My Fair Lady, Long Day's Journey Into Night, West Side Story, Waiting for Godot, Gypsy, A Raisin in the Sun, Camelot, Barefoot in the Park, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, Little Me, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello, Dolly!, Cabaret, A Delicate Balance, Hair.

And now you know all about my summer. I mean, there's lots of drama around the book, but it was and remains an amazing project. Estimated publishing date: early 2008.

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Congratulations to Stolen Chair

What up, yo? Major congratulations to the Stolen Chair Theatre Company for being named Best Genre-Bending Nonprofit Theater by the New York Press.

Um, I just can't imagine how that happened? I mean, who at the New York Press might have had something to do with that??? Maybe some of us will figure it out. :-)

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Censorship and the American Stage

Gosh darn it. I turn my back for a few weeks and censorship is everywhere -- at least if you're doing a Ray Bradbury play in California. Read this and tell me if you aren't just furious.

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An Interview with Jan Buttram of the Abingdon Theatre Company

Here's an interview I did with Jan Buttram, artistic director of the Abingdon Theatre Company. I've known her for a long time but this was out first sit-down, geared in part to all those lovely actors, of course. She said some neat stuff.

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Lots of New Reviews

I can't believe it's been so long since I've posted new reviews.

Here's my Back Stage review of The Ritz.
And here's my Back Stage review of Mauritius.

Meanwhile, here's my review of Margaret Cho's The Sensuous Woman.
And here's my review of Forbidden Broadway.
And here's my review of Die, Mommie, Die.

More to come.

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Great Sondheim Interview

Kudos to my buddy Rob Kendt for finding this excellent interview with Stephen Sondheim, conducted by Craig Carnelia.

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Get Psyched!

I also received this today. Could be interesting for anyone who qualifies:

29 October 2007
For more information, contact Dottie Jeffries,
Director of Public Affairs,212-752-0450, ext. 29,;

American Psychoanalytic Association
announces 2008 – 2009 Fellowship Program

Special invitation to theater professionals to apply

New York, NY- The american psychoanalytic association (APsaA) is pleased to announce that nominations are now open for the 2008 – 2009 Fellowship Program. APsaA's Fellowship Program seeks outstanding psychiatrists, psychologists, clinical social workers and academics at various levels of training who are curious about how the mind works, who consider psychoanalytic thinking important for the future of their professional disciplines and who are likely to become, or already are, leaders in their fields.

Theater professionals- actors, playwrights, and others- who demonstrate a serious ongoing interest in psychoanalysis and its relationship to their primary field of theater arts are encouraged to apply. APsaA's Fellowship Program offers an invaluable opportunity to explore the core themes of theater - conflict, motive, passion, and behavior to name a few. Christopher Shinn, noted playwright, was among the 2006-2007 Fellowship recipients.

Please visit and click on "Fellowship Program" in the left hand menu bar. From there, you will be able to find out more about the program, review eligibility requirements, download an application as well as learn about the benefits of applying to the program and winning a Fellowship.

Application material must be submitted in one packet and be received by Monday, February 11, 2008. For other information about the Fellowship Program, please contact Meghan Moore, Fellowship coordinator,

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Oh, Would the Jewish Theater of New York Please Stop It?

I've been resisting the urge for months and months to post about the Jewish Theatre of New York -- for any number of reasons. First, I happen to think artistic director Tuvia Tenenbom is a smart guy, has steel balls, and certainly anyone in the business who is interested in rabblerousing has my admiration, assuming the goal of all the rabblerousing is some kind of positive outcome, some kind of betterment. That said, the company has engaged in some activities and practices that just don't thrill me. One such is their contention that Rick Lyman, the arts editor of The New York Times, is an anti-Semite because, for one reason or another, he's unwilling to assign a critic to review the company's newest production, Last Jew in Europe.

Well, that was last spring, and now the company is bringing the play back and launching yet another frontal assault on Lyman. You know what? I don't buy it. Get a load of this PR and tell me what you think:

For Immediate Release
Abe Cohen, 212.494.0050

Get the Racist Lyman Out!

The Jewish Theater of New York deeply deplores the continuous belligerence and shameful racism exhibited by Mr. Rick Lyman, Theater Desk Editor of The New York Times, toward our theater.

In March of this year, only a day after Mr. Lyman assumed his position as theater editor, he barred Times’ critics from visiting our show LAST JEW IN EUROPE. For the first time in eleven years, a production mounted by The Jewish Theater of New York was not to be reviewed by the Times. Initially, Mr. Lyman claimed that no critic wanted to see this show. That proved to be a petty lie after our Artistic Director, Mr. Tuvia Tenenbom, personally called some of the critics and they told him that they would love to see the show but Mr. Lyman wouldn’t allow them to do so. When asked for comments by various news organizations, such as the New York Post and others, the culture department of the Times changed the story: it wasn’t the critics who didn’t want to see the show but rather the Times’ editors’ decision to “take a pass” at that one time. In an email sent to the media, and responding to the Jewish Theater’s accusation that such a decision amounted to a boycott by the Times, Mr. Sam Lifton, the culture editor, said: “The New York Times has by no means decided not to review shows put on by The Jewish Theater of New York.”

Well, that was in March. Now it’s October.

The Jewish of New York, due to repeated requests by members of the Jewish community to see the show, has mounted LAST JEW IN EUROPE again--and this time in a totally new production and under completely new direction. And again, the Times was invited. Once more, the Times’ theater department response was: “No critic wants to see the LAST JEW.” When confronted by Mr. Tenenbom that critics actually wanted to see the LAST JEW, Mr. Tenenbom was told by Ms. Oconor of the theater department: “This is the answer I was told to give you. It’s not in my hands.” For a moment there, Mr. Tenenbom thought that he wasn’t in the US of A but in Cuba or Burma.

The message by the theater department is obviously clear: LAST JEW IN EUROPE, a show that documents the alarming increase of anti-Semitism in Europe, will not be reviewed by the Times. Period. Since Mr. Rick Lyman doesn’t care about the Jews, nobody else should care as well.

If this is not shameful censorship, we don’t know what is. And for a paper that prides itself for having an open mind, this is a narrow mind of extremity and a total disgrace.

LAST JEW IN EUROPE, which uses advance forms of theater-making (most of the show takes place in the audience section, to cite one example), is deemed not worthy of Times readers to know about. It must be kept a secret. That’s a lesson in democracy, coming to you straight from the new school of Mr. Rick Lyman--a dictator in the making.

The fact that a big percentage of the Times’ readers are Jewish, people who care deeply about issues of rising anti-Semitism, seems to bother no Lymans of the world.

We urgently call on the powers that be at The New York Times to immediately distance themselves from the disgrace called Rick Lyman. Failure to stop this racist will mean that the Times stands behind his shameful deeds. And if it does, it’s time to boycott the Times itself. Preaching for anti-discrimination while practicing discrimination against the only English-speaking Jewish theater company in New York, sounds hypocritical to every person of sound mind. Targeting this show in this way is nothing short of dumb elitist racism.


The Jewish Theater of New York

I mean, really??

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Arts Advocacy Update XVI

The content below has been appropriated from Americans for the Arts' Cultural Policy Listserv, a product of its Arts Policy Information Center.

I have worked as a journalist and editor with Americans for the Arts in the past, and endorse and support their work. I am therefore pleased to appropriate this content with their permission. I do, however, urge everyone to check out their
entire website and to visit it regularly as a great source of news and information for the arts community.

I also urge everyone to
join the listserv so you can receive the same email blasts I do, from which the content below is being taken.

Here's the Arts Advocacy Update for this week.

The Business Committee for the Arts has come out with a list called Best Companies Supporting the Arts in America. Read this.

FCC: Offer New Options to Minorities
Washington Post - AP, 10/12/2007
"The nation's chief telecommunications regulator wants to take advantage of the television industry's transition to digital broadcasting to make channels available to small businesses that may be owned by minority programmers. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Kevin Martin promoted his long-dormant concept Friday in the face of heavy criticism of his agency's record on promoting minority ownership of media. The chairman spoke at a media and telecommunications symposium hosted by the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and its founder, the Rev. Jesse Jackson."
Bravo. And not a day too soon.

The League of American Theatres and Producers to Meet with FCC about White Space Devices
Light&Sounds America Online, 10/16/2007
"The League of American Theatres and Producers, Inc., the trade association for the Broadway industry, has joined with major sports leagues, television broadcasters, and houses of worship in a campaign to urge the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to reject plans to allow portable 'white space devices' to operate in frequencies used by wireless microphones. Yesterday, theatre leaders and a representative from Mayor Bloomberg's administration met with FCC Chairman Kevin Martin to outline their concerns with the FCC allowing millions of new wireless devices to operate on the same wireless frequencies as wireless microphones used in theatre, music, dance, and other live performances across the country. If such devices interfere with wireless microphone systems, the Broadway community and others would be paralyzed, the League says."
Okay, now cue #10, and -- Hi, sue, yes, I'll be there at 10pm -- and now cue #11 -- Hi, Mom, how's Dad? Great! Hold on -- and now cue #12...

Creative Council Bill Reported Out of Committee (North Adams, MA), 10/12/2007
In Massachusetts, "[a] bill that would establish a state Creative Economy Council was reported favorably out of the Joint Committee on Economic Development and Emerging Technologies on Wednesday, according to state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams. House bill No. 4227, An Act Establishing the Massachusetts Creative Economy Council, would create the council within the Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development."
Bravo! Massachusetts always leads the trends...

D.C. Tries to Harness Cultural Resources
Associated Press, 10/13/2007
With new and upcoming openings of cultural facilities, such as the $89 million Harman Center for the Arts, DC city and arts officials see a "cultural renaissance taking place outside of the National Mall and its iconic museums, memorials and monuments." They hope "Creative D.C." efforts will move the city "away from its image as a stuffy, wonkish power center and closer to a showcase for arts, trendy neighborhoods and diverse flavors. . . . The city's creative energy could be followed by good jobs, including those in the arts, publishing, technology or other industries, officials said. One potential snag is the city's increasingly expensive housing market." This has always been DC's struggle, and I have to assume that the Shakespeare Theatre's push -- a big push, believe me -- to get press for the Harman Center has to be tied in some way, formal or otherwise, to what's being discussed in this story.

Movies Filming In Connecticut Leads To Production Crew Issues (Hartford, CT), 10/10/2007
"Connecticut's film tax credit has been so successful in luring moviemakers and famous faces that now there aren't enough production crews to do the work. With that in mind, a committee of legislators, educators, union leaders and film industry professionals gathered at the capital Wednesday to try to script a solution. . . . They've dubbed themselves Hollywood East and their goal is to establish a solid work force made up of those who live in Connecticut."
My suggestion: Lower property values in Greenwich (joke! joke! hahahaha)

House Approves $7M for Cultural Facilities Fund (North Adams, MA), 10/13/2007
In Massachusetts, "[t]he House of Representatives voted Thursday to allocate $7 million to the Cultural Facilities Fund through supplemental budget that closes the books on fiscal 2007, according to state Rep. Daniel E. Bosley, D-North Adams."
See what I mean? Massachusetts always leads the trends.

The arts-funding balancing act
Seattle Times, 10/14/2007
Influenced in part by the data of the Arts & Economic Prosperity III study from Americans for the Arts, Seattle mayor Greg Nickels' is "beefing up arts/cultural support by $1 million" in his proposed 2008 budget. "The biggest single chunk of the arts/culture budget, $2.7 million, would go to remodel the west wing of Building 30 at Warren G. Magnuson Park to create a multi- arts facility, including studios, exhibition and office space for arts organizations."
How about something to get Seattle theatre fired up again? 'Tis been tough times for thespians out there...

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Officially back on Monday, but...

Hey all. I'm officially back as of Monday, but I'm going to post the Arts Advocacy Update because people like it -- and because Americans for the Arts actually contacted me to say that they like it.

The good news is the book is done. I'll be writing about it next week so the deep, dark mystery will finally be revealed. It's been quite a summer.

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Thursday, October 11, 2007

I'm Not Really Back, But...

I'm not really back, but...

1) I'm officially in love with Liam Kyle Sullivan. More on that soon.

2) Here's my review of The Ritz (and here, below, is the text):

Scott Pask's three-story set for Roundabout's revival of The Ritz connotes farce -- look at all those doors. Yet despite director Joe Mantello providing Terrence McNally's 1975 play with every physical accoutrement he can, The Ritz has aged ungracefully, proving the best farces are timeless, not stuck in their cultural moment.

The curtain rises on an Italian clan weeping as its patriarch is dying. His last wish, uttered in a sputter, is for the husband of his daughter Vivian (Ashlie Atkinson) to wear cement shoes, or whatever method of murder his grieving heirs choose. The husband, Gaetano Proclo (Kevin Chamberlin), elects to hide in a gay bathhouse, but not for long: Carmine (Lenny Venito), his brother-in-law, locates him, as does Brick (David Turner), a buff private dick with a castrato's voice, plus a posse of gay men, from Claude (Patrick Kerr), a chubby-chaser hot for Proclo's girth, to Chris (Brooks Ashmanskas), whose high flamboyance fuels his libido. If farce were a kingdom, McNally proffers every key -- mistaken identities, door slamming, character chases. So why don't we laugh more?

We do chuckle when Googie Gomez (Rosie Perez) enters. If you know your gay-bathhouse history (who doesn't?), you'll connect Googie, an untalented actor-singer aiming to leap from the steam room to stardom, with Bette Midler, who famously sang at the Continental Baths at the time McNally was writing the play. Not too bright and prone to Spanish-inflected malapropisms, Googie thinks Proclo is a producer; she desires him as much as everyone else. Fearing for his life (and often his heterosexuality), the poor man is ricocheting all over the set like a pinball. More chuckling ensues.

Notice I didn't say hilarity. In the Tony-winning role originated by Rita Moreno, Perez hits every flat note pitch-imperfectly and wears those 1970s wigs with disco-diva magic. But her accent wobbles, and in general there's nothing especially farcical about her performance -- maybe Perez is just trying too hard to be funny. Most of the supporting cast -- handsome men like former gay porn star Ryan Idol (the name of his character is Crisco Patron) -- fall into the same trap: Buttless chaps only amuse for so long when you've got Marlboro men missing any mania. Plus McNally's script amplifies it all -- the anachronistic references work only if you understand them, and it's hard to build a cackling farce on little more than hedonistic nostalgia. Words that might have been permissible to toss around in 1975 -- "faggot" comes to mind -- play very oddly now, recalling yesteryear's stereotypes, not today's punch lines.

Equally odd, however, the best comedy comes from Ashmanskas, who saunters in a short silk wrap, minces more efficiently than a Cuisinart blender, and reminds us that camp is also a verb. Chris is a character who might well have appeared in an early draft of The Boys in the Band, but he's nevertheless whole -- a reveler in the sexually liberated time when bathhouses embodied the gay social whirl and yet someone we can still laugh at without the nagging feeling we're guffawing at clich├ęs.

This is all very intellectual for a gay-bathhouse farce, so let me rave over the talent-show scene in which Seth Rudetsky sings "Magic to Do" from Pippin while operating a marionettelike Fosse tribute. Idol delivers his lines about Crisco with the requisite slippery charm, and when Googie sings off-key and a neon sign reading "The Ritz" loses part of its "R," "The Pitz" is a great sight gag. But it's kind of symbolic, too.

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Thursday, October 04, 2007

Finishing the Book

I'm finishing the book and will be therefore be taking a short vacation from blog-world. I will return on Mon., Oct. 22.

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