William Haggard, The Arena
Few things in life are more disagreeable than coming down with a bad cold when you have three deadlines staring you in the face. The human brain is a miraculous organism, but it doesn’t much care for being asked to generate stylish prose between sneezes. Instead of writing, I’ve spent the past four days watching TV, reading comforting books, sucking down endless mugs of hot tea, sleeping as much as possible, and waiting impatiently for my lungs to dry up.
Among other things, I watched Dumbo, which I hadn’t seen since childhood, and Twelve O’Clock High, which I’d never seen. Dumbo turned out to be even better than I remembered, and the pleasure I took in it was greatly enhanced by the fact that I watched it in the company of a nine-year-old boy whose sense of wonder has yet to be impaired by the onset of adolescent selfconsciousness….
Read the whole thing here.
“They were children, political adolescents. Take a clever boy at sixteen, he reflected, and put him into a laboratory for the next seven or eight years. What emerged inevitably was a materialist, a materialist within an intelligible definition, a man who would assume without question that the methods of science could be applied to human societies. It was frightening how one could deceive oneself.”
William Haggard, Slow Burner
You haven’t seen much of me in this space in recent weeks because I’ve been traveling, both with and without Mrs. T, for personal and professional reasons alike.
The two of us, for instance, returned yesterday from a three-night stay at Ecce Bed and Breakfast, our beloved home away from home, where we did (to quote J.J. Gittes) as little as possible and (unlike poor Jake) enjoyed every second of it. Long, unfailingly happy experience has taught us both that it’s impossible not to relax at Ecce, or to eat a bad meal at Heron, the nearby restaurant where we dined twice during our visit. Be sure to order the southern-style pimento cheese and buttermilk-fried local chicken.
As usual, I’ve also been reviewing plays in New York and elsewhere, and helping to rehearse one of my own as well. Satchmo at the Waldorf opens at Mosaic Theater Company in Washington, D.C., on August 29 (previews start on August 25). This is a brand-new staging starring Craig Wallace and directed by Eleanor Holdridge, not a transfer or remounting of any of the show’s existing productions, so I asked Craig and Eleanor if they’d like me to look in on rehearsals, and they hastened to ask me to give them a hand. I went down to Washington last week and sat in on the third and fourth rehearsals, and liked what I saw tremendously.
Everybody I know in Washington assures me that Craig is one of the very best actors in town. I’ve yet to see him on stage, but he’s a knockout in the rehearsal room, and it was thrilling to watch his interpretation of the play taking shape. Having worked with Barry Shabaka Henley, Dennis Neal, and John Douglas Thompson, I have high standards, of which Craig is more than worthy. I’m already struck by the precision with which he evokes Louis Armstrong: I caught my breath once or twice at the seeming closeness of the resemblance between the two men, even though Craig looks nothing like Armstrong.
As for Eleanor, I knew her going in as the director of one of the best productions of Hamlet that I’ve ever seen, and I’m just as impressed by her fresh, personal take on Satchmo. I also like Andrew Cohen’s naturalistic set, a compact, multi-tiered performing space that is going to look terrific in Mosaic’s handsome little theater.
It happens once again that two different stagings of Satchmo are going up more or less simultaneously at opposite ends of the country. B Street Theatre of Sacramento, California, is opening its own production, directed by Martin Damien Wilkins and starring Jahi Kearse, on August 17 (previews start on August 20). I can’t get there—my busy reviewing schedule precludes a trip to the West Coast right now—but I did chat about the show the other day with Marcus Crowder, who writes about theater for the Sacramento Bee. I actually spoke to him from the front seat of a moving car! Mrs. T and I were en route from Maine to Massachusetts to see The Pirates of Penzance, and it was the only time I could do the interview.
Among other things, Crowder asked me how becoming a playwright and director has changed me as a critic, to which I replied:
It’s caused me (even before I decided to try my hand at directing) to see what a director does with greater clarity. That’s the element of theatrical production that is hardest for the outsider to see….I got to see how it worked, so when I put my other hat back on as a critic and I would see that end process taking place on other plays, I felt that I understood the director’s function more completely than I could have understood it had I not had this experience. I don’t know if it’s made me a better critic or not—that’s for other people to say—but from my point of view I feel as if I see more and understand more than I ever did before.
Not bad for a guy in a moving car, huh?
In addition to the Sacramento and Washington productions, Baton Rouge’s New Venture Theatre is presenting a two-night run of Satchmo on August 20 and 21. I know nothing about the company or Spencer Howard, who is playing the triple role of Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis, but I did read an interview with Howard in the Baton Rouge Advocate in which he was quoted as follows:
“For me, the script is so well-written,” says Howard, who also is a playwright. “I’ve done Athol Fugard’s plays, and Terry Teachout’s work reminds me of that. Fugard plays are actors’ plays, and this is an actor’s play.”
Oh, yes—I recently spent two days workshopping my second play, which is all I can tell you. The what and where must remain under wraps for now. I can say that I’m really excited by the work we’ve done so far, and that I have high hopes for the future of Play No. 2. Needless to say, watch this space for further details.
UPDATE: Due to the flooding in and around Baton Rouge, the New Venture Theatre’s performances of Satchmo have been moved to September 10 and 11. Click on the link above for additional information.
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To order tickets or for more information about the Mosaic Theater Company’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf in Washington, D.C., go here.
To order tickets or for more information about B Street Theatre’s production of Satchmo at the Waldorf in Sacramento, California, go here.
To read Marcus Crowder’s Sacramento Bee interview with me about Satchmo at the Waldorf, go here.
A video interview with me about Mosaic Theatre’s Washington premiere of Satchmo at the Waldorf:
In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review a revival of Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West in Washington, D.C. Here’s an excerpt.
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Now that Brian Friel has left us, who is Ireland’s leading living playwright? Most American playgoers would likely declare the race to be a tossup between Conor McPherson and Martin McDonagh, who was born and raised in London but is still as Irish as a shot of Jameson. For my part, I always choose the one whose work I saw most recently, so this week’s prize goes to Mr. McDonagh, author of “The Lonesome West,” which has just been uproariously revived by Washington’s Keegan Theatre….
First performed in 1997, “The Lonesome West” is the third panel in a triptych of plays (it was preceded by “The Beauty Queen of Leenane” and “A Skull in Connemara”) that are set in Leenane, a village in West Ireland. The title is drawn from “The Playboy of the Western World,” in which John Millington Synge tells the tale of a young man who claims to have killed his father and is fêted for it. Something like that happens in “The Lonesome West,” and it’s played, as is Mr. McDonagh’s wont, for anarchic laughter. But the joke is on Ireland, which he portrays as a violent, desperate land full of frustrated men and women who feed on embroidered memories and long-cherished grudges. Here as in the rest of his work, Mr. McDonagh savages the stage-Irish sentimentality that is the curse of his heritage, and the results are as exhilarating as a hard, cold wind….
“The Lonesome West” was first seen in the U.S. when Galway’s Druid Theatre Company brought the original production, staged by Garry Hynes, to Broadway in 1999. I missed it then (it ran for only 55 performances) and wish I hadn’t. Ms. Hynes’ Druid Theatre production of “The Cripple of Inishmaan,” which made it to New York’s Atlantic Theatre in 2008, proved that she has a profound understanding of Mr. McDonagh’s work. But this production, directed by Mark A. Rhea, the Keegan’s founder, leaves nothing whatsoever to be desired. It’s serious when it needs to be and funny the rest of the time…
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Read the whole thing here.
(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)