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THEATRE- March 2002

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Friday March 29

WHY THE BRITISH OKLAHOMA! FALLS SHORT: Trevor Nunn's version of the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic is good, but not quite right. "To the English, Americans are a sort of mutant breed, whose optimism is a sure sign of emotional aberration. The English are constitutionally unable to fathom it, and for good reason. American optimism has its root in abundance and in the vastness of the land that Oklahoma! celebrates. Britain, on the other hand, is an island the size of Utah. Its culture is one of scarcity; its preferred idiom is irony ó a language of limits." The New Yorker 04/01/02

Wednesday March 27

SUPPORTING THE THEATRE VILLAGE: The Royal Shakespeare Company is picking up support for its plans to build a new "theatre village" in Stratford. "However there are some doubts that the £100m project may be too much of a financial risk." BBC 03/26/02

CRITIC SEES HIMSELF ACCUSED ONSTAGE: Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel theatre critic Damien Jaques was surprised, sitting out in the audience of a play he was reviewing, to find his name and picture featured as part of a piece about September 11. "This piece about Sept. 11 did not include head-and-shoulder portraits of Osama bin Laden, Mohamed Atta, Mullah Omar, Rudy Guiliani, Donald Rumsfeld or George W. Bush. But I was up there on the big screen, apparently the symbol of what is wrong with this world." Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel 03/26/02

Tuesday March 26

BROADWAY RETURNS MONEY: Broadway has largely recovered from its swoon after September 11. So the theatres are giving back some of the money they received from the city. "On Monday, the League of American Theatres and Producers returned $1 million of a $2.5 million stipend given last fall by the city to purchase tickets to 11 Broadway shows that were facing the prospect of a bleak winter." Newsday (AP) 03/26/02

LIVENT SETTLEMENT: When the mega-musical producer Livent went bankrupt in the late 90s, actors working in touring productions were stranded without paychecks owed to them. Now the Canadian actors union is distributing money finally collected from the company. "Artists covered by the settlement will receive payments ranging from CAN$20 ($12.80) to CAN$15,000 ($9,615), depending on their respective claims." Backstage 03/25/02

Sunday March 24

RSC SLAPS 'MODERN' GAG ORDERS ON STAFF: Times are not good at the Royal Shakespeare Company. A slew of controversies has erupted in the last year, most of them focused around artistic director Adrian Noble. Now, the RSC seems to have imposed a gag order on its staff, to the outrage of many. "A spokeswoman described the introduction of a confidentiality clause in the contracts of all permanent and contract employees... as 'simply a matter of modernising our antiquated contracts into line with all other commercial organisations.'" The Guardian (UK) 03/22/02

  • JUST WHAT THE HECK IS GOING ON IN THERE? "Writing about the Royal Shakespeare Company is like trying to make a nice, clear shape out of a vast pool of mercury. Where is the company going? What strange new initiative will its embattled director, Adrian Noble, dream up next? Arenít artistic standards seriously slipping? Yet every time I have girded my pen for the attack, the RSC has foiled me with a production Iíve found genuinely exciting." The Times of London 03/22/02

OKAY, BUT NO MORE PINBALL WIZARD, GOT IT? The intersection of rock music with the stage musical has never been a clean one, and no one has ever been quite sure what to make of it. From Stephen Schwarz's Godspell to Elton John's Aida, the music of youthful rebellion has often stumbled when combined with the ultimate cornball theatre form. But increasingly, it looks as if the crossover is here to stay, and the question becomes not 'will it work,' but 'how can we make it work?' Boston Globe 03/24/02

COURTING CONTROVERSY: Michael Frayn's Copenhagen, a play about a meeting between two nuclear scientists, one Danish, one German, in 1941, has been under fire by numerous critics since its debut. Some say that the play doesn't condemn Nazi policy strongly enough, others claim historical innacuracy. Frayn himself is circumspect: "With hindsight I think I accept some of these criticisms. [But] I'm not so sure about a greater stress on the evil of the Nazi regime. I thought that this was too well understood to need pointing out. It is, after all, the given of the play." The Guardian (UK) 03/23/02

Friday March 22

ONE-TRACK MINDS: Few American theatres would attempt even once what Chicago's Eclipse Theatre does every year. Eclipse performs the works of a single playwright exclusively for an entire season, with the intention of gaining deeper understanding through immersion. But this is no "greatest hits" troupe: the playwrights, and the plays themselves, tend toward the lesser-known, and audiences seem to be up to the challenge. Chicago Sun-Times 03/22/02

Wednesday March 20

PAY FOR PRACTICE: In London previews of an elaborate production of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang carry a discount of £2.50 off the regular £40 ticket. Not that a preview is some half- (or even three-quarter-) baked version of the Chitty Chitty Bang Bang that will open April 16, say the producers. On the other hand... The Guardian (UK) 03/20/02

Tuesday March 19

WHERE ARE THE WOMEN? A new report by the New York State Council on the Arts chronicles the limited role of women in the theatre. "Progress with regard to womenís participation in the theatre has been both inconsistent and slow. Latest figures indicate that advancement has stalled or even deteriorated. 23% of the productions were directed by women and 20% had a woman on the writing team. Women get paid on average only between 70-74 percent of what men earn. New York State Council on the Arts 03/02

GRAVES DESIGNS NEW CHILDREN'S THEATRE: Architect Michael Graves has designed a new $24 million "solid-but-whimsical assemblage of geometric shapes addition" for Minneapolis' Children's Theatre Company. Now, all the company has to do is raise the money for it. The Children's Theatre has 24,000 subscribers, making it the Twin Cities' second-largest theatre after the Guthrie. St. Paul Pioneer Press 03/19/02

Monday March 18

MAN OF THE THEATRE: Actor-director-writer Carmelo Bene has died at the age of 64. He was "the enfant terrible of Italian stage and screen" and "shared the distinction with Dario Fo of being a theatrical artist who also became a literary phenomenon. Afflicted with almost every illness in the medical books, and obliged to have four by-pass operations in the late 1980s (repeated in 2000), he reappeared in public in 1994 as the sole guest of Italian commercial TV's most popular late-night talk show. He held his own for two hours against the onslaught of a sceptical but bemused audience. " The Guardian (UK) 03/18/02

Sunday March 17

A HISTORY REPEATING: The Broadway revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible has people commenting "that the play is 'timely'. What do they mean exactly? That it's timeless. Currently the play resonates in two directions: on the one hand, the theocratic government under which the Puritan inhabitants of Salem lived had a sexual morality as rigid, and a punishment as cruel, as those of the Taliban; and on the other hand, the notion of a society in which all dissent is construed as opposition is not remote." The Guardian (UK) 03/16/02

PRICKLY EXPERIMENTAL: At 27, the Wooster Group is one of America's oldest experimental theatre companies. How to stay experimental for so long? It's not easy. "Originally, the way people joined the group was when someone committed in such a way that it seemed inevitable. The truth is that we haven't really had anyone who's asked to join in 15 to 20 years. You have to ask to join." Woe to the critic who tries to probe too deep: "You come from a place that's so alien to us, it's almost like talking to someone from another planet. You don't have the wildest idea about what we're doing. And yet, it's because you don't have the wildest idea, that you're able to articulate it so well." The Telegraph (UK) 0316/02

ACTING UP: It may all look like acting - but acting for the screen and acting in a theatre are very different things. "The size of gestures, which are vastly magnified by the screen, the importance of vocal nuance, the tonal difference demanded by cinematic intimacy and, in movies, the need to convey character partly by projecting image" - some actors are good in one genre but not in the other. New York Post 03/17/02

Friday March 15

AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER... All those stories and plays that end with loose ends unwrapped - it's difficult not to wonder what happens to the characters after the story has ended. Brian Friel has written a play to answer some of those questions. "A character from one Chekhov play meets a character from another, a real Moscow in the 1920s where the three sisters' brother Andrey meets Uncle Vanya's niece Sonya. The result, a short play lasting an hour and five minutes, is called Afterplay." Financial Times 03/15/02

TOURIST TRAP: Is Broadway running out of original ideas to lure the tourists in? How else to explain a succession of movies remade for the stage? "Sometimes this leads to travesties such as Beauty and the Beast and Saturday Night Fever. Other times it ends in mere repackaging of the source material, as in last year's inexplicable phenom The Producers. There is always the question of why..." The Globe & Mail 03/15/02

Thursday March 14

PUCCINI A LA BAZ: When Baz Luhrmann's bohemian odyssey Moulin Rouge hit theaters last year, with its over-the-top theatrics and reworked pop songs, "some critics reached for rhapsodic analogies, others for aspirin bottles." Luhrmann's next project is a daring attempt to bring Puccini's La Boheme to Broadway, and to do it without bastardizing the music as with Elton John's Aida. "His idea is not exactly to reinvent La Boheme, but to make it accessible for audiences unschooled in the opera tradition." The New York Times 03/14/02

Wednesday March 13

SCREEN TO STAGE: More and more movies are transferring to the stage. Used to be it was the other way around - successful theatre productions were fodder for the big screen. "The relationship between the two art forms used to be a straightforward one, characterised at its most fraught by healthy sibling rivalry. Movies have always represented populism and youth, while theatre, at least until the late 1960s, still clung to those high-culture, elitist ideals that take more than the odd Rocky Horror Show, or Jamie Theakston joining the cast of Art, to dispel." The Independent (UK) 03/10/02

DEMOCRACY ONSTAGE: A theatre company in Bonn wants to use the former East German parliament building for a performance of a work that would put 600 of the city's residents in a reenactment of a parliamentary session. But the current president of Germany's parliament has protested the plan, saying that the performance would "compromise the dignity and respect of the German parliament." Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 03/12/02

Tuesday March 12

SEARCH FOR STRUCTURE: Playwright Tony Kushner is "one of the very few dramatists now writing whose works are contributions to literature as well as to theater. (Stoppard is only a pretender to that crown.)" He has "substance, eloquence, intelligence, and emotional power." Still, after seeing Kushner's latest play Homebody/Kabul twice, critic Robert Brustein wonders if Kushner has the sense of formal structure to carry off a project like this. The New Republic 03/11/02

ACCIDENTAL TOURIST: Monologuist Spalding Gray is supposed to be on tour now reprising his Swimming to Cambodia piece. But he's been having trouble concentrating after a nasty car accident in Ireland. "It took an hour for the stupid ambulance to arrive. I ended up in one of those horrible Irish country hospitals and they wanted to leave me there in traction for six weeks." Chicago Tribune 03/12/02

Monday March 11

DENVER CENTER CUTS BACK NEW PLAYS: The Denver Center Theatre Company says it will close its literary office and stop development of new works because of endowment losses in the stock market. "On a regular basis we get 1,000 plays a year, and we have to pay people to read them. It is something we strongly believe in, but if it comes to cutting that or the work we do for our audiences, we will always go with our audience." Newsday (AP) 03/09/02

TAKE IT OFF: "Stage nudity, as with most things along the gender divide, reminds you that it still isn't a level playing field out there. Stage censorship was abolished in 1968 and suddenly the gloves, and everything else, were off. Hair appeared, Oh! Calcutta! came, costume budgets shrank and audiences thronged for culturally condoned titillation. And ever since, actresses have been harassed, hoodwinked and hornswoggled into acceding to wily directors' assertions that the nude scene was essential to the plot." Not so for males... The Observer (UK) 03/10/02

Sunday March 10

MISS ME KATE: A one-woman play about actress Katherine Hepburn at Hartford Stage has attracted a lot of attention. This week Hepburn's family called the play "trash." Some critics feel that the actress's life "has been sanitized, protected and manipulated over the years and a fresh light is welcome after decades of image polishing. Others feel this is a rush to appropriate a life before its final curtain." Hartford Courant 03/10/02

WHAT ABOUT A SCOTTISH NATIONAL THEATRE? Scottish theatre is looking for a new direction. "A Scottish National Theatre is proposed. The suggested model, a commissioning body with neither a theatre building nor its own permanent company, remains a controversial one. Ultimately, like the ever-present issue of funding for Scottish drama, the future of the project lies in the hands of the politicians." The Scotsman 03/09/02

NEW AGE: More and more theatres are actively soliciting and producing new plays. Indianapolis' 18th annual Festival of Emerging American Theatre (FEAT) opens this week. "It's new works that are going to keep the theater alive. Doing stuff just from the past, or large commercial productions, isn't going to provide the testing grounds for the really great writers of the future to develop." Indianapolis Star 03/10/02

Friday March 8

ACTORS GET MONEY FROM LIVENT: When the Livent theatre empire went crashing into bankruptcy in 1999, it owed a lot of people a lot of money. Including actors. Now "Canadian Actors' Equity Association has cut cheques for 163 members, proceeds of a $157,200 cash settlement from the now-defunct Livent." National Post 03/06/02

Thursday March 7

OF BRAND NAMES AND CRISES: The Royal Shakespeare Company seems to lurch from crisis to crisis. "Is something rotten in the state of Stratford? Is it a genuine company? Or is it simply an umbrella organisation trading on a brand-name and housing a number of discrete, increasingly isolated projects?" The Guardian (UK) 03/06/02

BRIT INVASION: Three of Britain's top directors are currently working on Broadway. All three are also former (or about-to-be) artistic directors of London's Royal National Theatre... The New York Times 03/07/02

SEX AND THE CITY-STATE. REALLY: For his swan song with The American Repertory Theater, Robert Brustein planned a production of Lysistrata. Larry Gelbart, author of the M*A*S*H series on TV and co-author of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, wrote a racy adaptation. (After all, it is about "women who stage a sex strike to get their husbands to stop war.") But it was too racy. (One proposed title: Phallus Doesn't Live Here Any More.) Now ART is putting together a new version, and Gelbart's will get a reading at the Manhattan Theater Club next week. New York Observer 02/06/02

Wednesday March 6

TWO QUIT ROYAL SHAKESPEARE: Controversy continues to dog the Royal Shakespeare Company. In the past week two directors have quit the company over "artistic differences." "The departure of Edward Hall, son of the RSC's founder Sir Peter Hall, follows that of the rising young star David Hunt. Both quit even before rehearsals began for five Jacobean plays which are supposed to epitomise the RSC's new appetite for adventure." The Guardian (UK) 03/06/02

PINING FOR THE SWINGING 60s: Some of London's most-successful plays this season have something in common - they're "set in the early 1960s and deal with an England in rapid transition. When you consider the recent vogue for 1960s revivals - including Peter Nichols's A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, John Osborne's Luther, David Storey's The Contractor and In Celebration and David Rudkin's Afore Night Come - it is clear that our theatre is offering a radical re-evaluation of a once- despised decade." The Guardian (UK) 03/06/02

TAKING ONE FOR THE TEAM: In tough financial times, arts organizations are often pitted against one another in a desperate grab for the few public dollars available. So it was fairly unusual stuff in Minneapolis last month when the Shubert Theater, which has more reason than most to cry about shoddy treatment and lack of funding, announced that it would rescind its funding requests for the year, in order that other deserving groups might see bigger handouts. The mayor praised the move, arts advocates threw up their hands, and behind it all was politics, politics, politics. City Pages (Minneapolis/Saint Paul) 03/06/02

  • THEATRE OF THE ABSURD: The Shubert has a particularly bizarre place in the history of Twin Cities theatre. Among other things, it has been closed, reopened, remodeled, moved (yes, the building) one block down Hennepin Avenue at a public cost of $5 million, and used as a political pawn by Minneapolis politicians of every stripe. Occasionally, some people have even put on plays there. City Pages 02/24/02

Tuesday March 5

ROYAL SHAKESPEARE IN DC: The UK's Royal Shakespeare Company is taking up residence at the Kennedy Center in Washington for the next five years. "Tthe residency will be underwritten by $250,000 from Prince Charles, who is president of the RSC board." Washington Post 03/05/02

Monday March 4

THE REAL WILLY: A new documentary goes looking for the "real" Shakespeare. It's "about the so-called Marlovians, the folks who say that Marlowe was the guy, as opposed to Francis Bacon or Edward de Vere, inter alia. Or, for that matter, the rustic actor named William Shakespeare who commonly holds the laurels." Salon 03/02/02

Sunday March 3

WHAT HAPPENED TO THE ORCHESTRA? "For decades and for economic reasons, more and more shows have played Broadway or gone a-touring with increasingly thin pit orchestras. In recent years, secondary touring editions of everything from Ragtime to Titanic have thrown a sparse handful of live musicians on top of what's known as a 'virtual orchestra,' a computerized whatzit (there's more than one brand) designed to sound like a bigger and grander and more fabulous orchestra than the one at hand." Even the experts can't always tell...so is there anything wrong with this? Chicago Tribune 03/03/02

RICHARD RODGERS AT 100: "What would Rodgers think of the hoopla surrounding the centennial of his birth and the celebration of his musical legacy? He was more interested in the next show that was right in front of his nose. 'I don't imagine he wanted to think about [his legacy] very much because he hated thinking about death and that the next century would probably not include him'." Hartford Courant 03/03/02 

ODE TO THE GLOBE: Shakespeare purists may scoff at the rebuilt Globe Theatre in London, but after five years, the Globe has sold more than a million tickets and filled 80 percent of its seats. And the actors? "I've played in all sorts of places, but I think this is the most exciting building to act in in the world. You feel the audience is so there. The feeling onstage is almost as if you are part of them and they are part of you. The reaction of the audience is from the gut, unconditioned by all the stuff you get at the Royal Shakespeare Company and National Theater. People react as they want to." The New York Times 03/03/02

TRUTH IN HISTORY? More and more people seem to get their history from the entertainment they consume. So should we worry about accuracy? About artistic license? "If real history and real people are portrayed, how accurate is accurate enough in plays about the Salem witch trials, the movie producer Samuel Goldwyn, the sculptor Louise Nevelson, the scientist Richard Feynman, a 19th-century deformed Londoner and two New York brothers who died in a house stuffed with years of debris? Are there good and bad reasons to change the facts? When reaching back into history, do artists have a responsibility to more than their artistic vision?" The New York Times 03/03/02

Friday March 1

A SHOW FOR OUR TIME? How's this for a self-serving pitch to come see a show? The choreographer of the new Broadway revival of Oklahoma says: "When Oklahoma! first opened during World War II, I think it brought great comfort to the audience. And here it is, coming in after Sept. 11, a show about fighting for territory. It's also a safe and known entity. And right now, I think people in New York need to feel comfort and joy in the theater." The New York Times 03/01/02

MILLER TO GUTHRIE: Playwright Arthur Miller has decided to produce his new play Resurrection Blues, at the Guthrie Theatre in the Twin Cities this fall. "I have to decide where to do it first, away from the big time. (New York) is not an atmosphere conducive to creation. The tension is high because there's so much money resting on a poor little play." St. Paul Pioneer Press 03/01/02

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