William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part Two
Archives for October 2017
I don’t have a problem with writer’s block, but sometimes I do have a problem with laziness. Yesterday I traveled from a fancy hotel room in Chicago to an empty apartment in New York. (Mrs. T is still up in Connecticut—the doctor ordered her to stay in bed and take antibiotics.) I dropped off my bags, checked my e-mail, grabbed a sandwich, picked up nine packages and a bag of laundry, and returned home to finish writing a Wall Street Journal drama column about the two shows I saw in Chicago on Sunday…only I couldn’t make myself write another word. Which is, of course, an evasive way of saying that I didn’t want to write another word, having already cranked out two pieces in Chicago and part of a third on the plane yesterday….
Read the whole thing here.
“Personally, the books by which I have profited infinitely more than by any others have been those in which profit was a by-product of the pleasure; that is, I read them because I enjoyed them, because I liked reading them, and the profit came in as part of the enjoyment.”
Theodore Roosevelt, An Autobiography (courtesy of Patrick Kurp)
Two weeks from today, I fly down to West Palm Beach with my bags packed for a six-week stay. I’ll report for duty the next morning at Palm Beach Dramaworks’ rehearsal hall, where Bill Hayes and the cast of Billy and Me, my second play, will be going to work. I spent a near-ecstatic month in that same room a year and a half ago, directing Satchmo at the Waldorf. My job is very different this time around: Bill is directing the show, and I’ll be there to sit, watch, answer questions, and revise and polish the script as needed. Still, I’ll be surprised if I don’t feel pretty much the same way.
A couple of months before Satchmo went into rehearsal, Bill said to me, “Tell me, do you think there’s a play to be written about Tennessee Williams and William Inge?” Sure enough, there was, and the first draft of Billy and Me was finished two weeks later. I’ve been chipping away at it ever since. I finished the final pre-rehearsal draft last month and e-mailed it to Bill, who sent it out to the cast and production team. Since then, I’ve been doing my best not to think about Billy and Me, and I’ve successfully resisted the temptation to keep on tinkering. It’s time to take it into the shop and get down to business.
I wrote in this space five years ago about the experience of rehearsing and revising Satchmo at the Waldorf for its Shakespeare & Company production. I’ve never learned more about anything in a shorter stretch of time than I did that summer about what Alan Ayckbourn calls the crafty art of playmaking. One of the things I learned is that what Moss Hart wrote about revising a play on the fly in Act One, his autobiography, is literally true. It really is possible to write a new scene overnight, or to write a new speech on the spot. That’s what the rehearsal period does to you: it heightens your creative powers to a breathtaking degree.
Until I went through the refiner’s fire of rehearsing a new play for the first time, I didn’t know what the phrase “in the moment” really meant. No sooner do you walk into the rehearsal room than all else recedes from your consciousness, and nothing exists but the day’s work. You have no choice but to take time out from the rest of your life and immerse yourself in the imaginary world of the play and its production—and once you let go of everything else, you become strangely happy. If, like me, you lead a complicated life, it feels almost like a vacation to set aside your cares and think about one thing all day, every day.
I’ve been looking forward to this particular vacation more than I can say. I love my life, but I’m ready to get away from it for a few weeks and set sail on the ship that will take my collaborators and me to opening night. The seas will likely get rough between now and then, but I don’t care. I’m counting the hours until it’s time to go to work again.
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Preview performances of Billy and Me begin in West Palm Beach on December 6 and the show opens on December 8. For more information, go here.
The “teaser trailer” for Billy and Me:
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In 1982, Harvey Fierstein’s “Torch Song Trilogy,” a four-hour autobiographical play about a drag queen who longs for nothing more than to settle down with a regular guy, looked very much like an act of cultural revolution. That it won a best-play Tony, ran for three years on Broadway and was then turned into a movie suggests in retrospect, however, that Mr. Fierstein’s play might not have been quite so radical as it once seemed. So does the first New York revival of what is now called “Torch Song,” from which he’s cut an hour and a half (you won’t miss it) and in which the lead role is being played not by the author but by Michael Urie, formerly of “Ugly Betty.” More than two years after same-sex marriage became the law of the land, “Torch Song” is looking more like a commercial comedy about a nice Jewish boy and his impossible mother—and a pretty good one, too.
The only thing wrong with Second Stage’s off-Broadway revival of “Torch Song,” which has been very effectively directed by Moisés Kaufman, is Mr. Urie, a fine actor who is miscast as Mr. Fierstein (yes, he’s called “Arnold Beckoff” in the play, but we all know who he really is). Whether on stage or screen, Mr. Fierstein was unforgettable, and to see Mr. Urie trying to put his own stamp on the part merely underlines why his predecessor was so good in it….
The most frequently produced play in America is a new stage adaptation of a 19-year-old movie—one that has yet to make it to New York. Lee Hall’s “Shakespeare in Love,” concocted by Disney Theatrical Productions, opened in London in 2014 and is being performed on 15 different U.S. stages this season….
If, like me, you’re dismayed by the rise of what I call “commodity theater,” of which screen-to-stage adaptations of hit movies like “Shakespeare in Love” are exemplary, then you won’t be thrilled by this piece of news. On the other hand, the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, which has just brought it to the East Coast, is a dead-serious company that does consistently fine work. If they’re doing “Shakespeare in Love,” there must be something to it, right? So I went out to New Jersey to see for myself, and I’m happy to say that the results are enormous fun.
I suspect this has everything to do with Bonnie J. Monte’s production, which is being performed on a miniature replica of an Elizabethan theater built on the stage of her company’s elegantly proportioned 308-seat proscenium house. Instead of emulating the film’s prettified slickness, Ms. Monte has opted to play “Shakespeare in Love” straight down the middle, trusting Tom Stoppard’s matchlessly witty dialogue to speak for itself….
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To read my review of Torch Song, go here.
To read my review of Shakespeare in Love, go here.
Harvey Fierstein’s opening monologue from Paul Bogart’s screen version of Torch Song Trilogy:
The trailer for the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey production of Shakespeare in Love:
Fred Steiner talks about how he composed “Park Avenue Beat,” the theme for the Perry Mason TV series:
(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)