“Every smart person wants to be corrected, not admired.”
Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind
“Every smart person wants to be corrected, not admired.”
Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind
A new episode of Three on the Aisle, the twice-monthly podcast in which Peter Marks, Elisabeth Vincentelli, and I talk about theater in America, is now available on line for listening or downloading.
Here’s American Theatre’s “official” summary of the proceedings:
This week the critics are coming to you from the living rooms, offices, and kitchens of their respective apartments to discuss the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on theatre, both short- and long-term. They talk livestreamed and recorded shows, the struggles that theatre companies will face in the coming weeks to stay in operation, the art that we are turning to in the absence of live theatre, and life in general life under quarantine.
To listen to or download this episode, read more about it, or subscribe to Three on the Aisle, go here.
In case you’ve missed any previous episodes, you’ll find them all here.
Tommy was overjoyed when I bid successfully on Storm Over Manhattan, one of Lozowick’s most handsome and characteristic prints, copies of which can be found in the collections of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco as well as in our apartment, where it hangs just outside our kitchen, directly above Childe Hassam’s Storm King. It’s a special favorite of Mrs. T, and I think of her every time I look at it.
It was back in 1995 that I met Tommy LiPuma, who produced albums by George Benson, Natalie Cole, Miles Davis, Bill Evans, João Gilberto, Dan Hicks, Paul McCartney, Randy Newman, and countless other musicians of note. I attended one of the recording sessions for Diana Krall’s All for You: A Dedication to the Nat King Cole Trio, which Tommy produced and whose liner notes I subsequently wrote. I found him charming—most people did, I gather, though I suspect he could also be scary—but there was no particular reason for the two of us to strike up an acquaintance at the time, so we didn’t.
It wasn’t until I found out eight years later that Tommy was an art collector of high seriousness that I got to know him a bit. I wrote a Washington Post column about a gallery show of his collection of paintings by American moderns, from which he learned that we shared a passion for the paintings of Arnold Friedman. A few months later he invited me over to his Manhattan apartment to look at the rest of his collection.
From then on we had lunch every couple of years, happily eating pasta and trading jazz-world and art-world gossip. He was the perfect luncheon companion, smart, likable, and utterly honest, and he had marvelous taste both as a producer and as a collector. Much to our mutual amusement, we discovered that we had once both bid on the same Friedman canvas (he won, of course—money talks). It was Tommy who suggested to me that Mrs. T and I might want to consider acquiring a lithograph by Louis Lozowick, a piece of advice that we hastened to take.
“When no idea seems right, the right one must seem wrong.”
Marvin Minsky, “Music, Mind, and Meaning”
I am overjoyed—hell, ecstatic—to report that I just got off the phone with Mrs. T. It was, of course, a one-way conversation, since she’s intubated with a ventilator and a tracheostomy, but her nurse informed me that she is now fully conscious, nodding her head vigorously and moving her mouth in response to questions.
“Would this be a good time to talk to her?” I asked.
“You better believe it,” he replied.
We’re not completely sure how clearly what I told her on Sunday night came through, and I didn’t want to waste precious phone time playing Twenty Questions, so I spent most of the call updating her on the state of the world, explaining that the hospital is closed to visitors but that I’ve been checking in twice daily with her nurses and doctors, calling her family with daily reports, and posting updates on Twitter and Facebook. “You’re not going to believe this,” I said, “but there are tens of thousands of people all over the world who are pulling for you.” I hope she believed it.
As for her overall condition, she is—to use the technical term employed by her nurse—copacetic. All her vital signs are looking good. The dialysis that was started over the weekend is keeping her alert and aware. Her hands are still swollen, but she’s passed off enough fluid to be able to squeeze the nurse’s hand in response to questions (except that she doesn’t need to do that anymore!). She is still fighting off a bacterial infection of unknown origin, but the doctors are hitting her with carefully chosen antibiotics and are confident that they’ll get it under control.
Needless to say, I have no idea when I’ll be able to see Mrs. T in the flesh again. That remains in the uncaring hands of the coronavirus, which continues to inundate New York-Presbyterian Hospital with fresh cases and is responsible for the hateful (but understandable) no-visitors order that has been keeping me a mile from her bedside. You can rest assured, though, that I’ll be there as soon as it’s both possible and absolutely safe for both of us.
So that’s my news. At long last, Sleeping Beauty is really, truly awake. And while I haven’t been sleeping very well for the past three weeks. I’m thinking maybe that’s about to change.
UPDATE: I spoke to Mrs. T again for ten minutes on Thursday night. No video yet and she still can’t talk, but she was definitely receiving my signal, and was amused to hear that I made a box of macaroni and cheese for dinner (the limit of my kitchen competence) and am now bingewatching Frasier episodes. I also told her about my review of Syracuse Stage’s Amadeus—she’s a great fan of Jason O’Connell—and about the open letter I wrote to the family of the anonymous donor of her two lungs.
She knows that lots of you out there are following my updates on her condition, and she seems to be touched to know that you care so much. (So am I, needless to say.) She knows, too, that the hospital is closed to visitors, and this time I tried to explain why. Imagine having been in a coma for three weeks and only just now waking up and finding out about the extent of the coronavirus pandemic! I told her that I’ve reserved our Sanibel bungalow for next January, and that the landlord will hold it for us until the last possible minute and can’t wait to see us again. We’re both living for that.
Finally, I told her that I love her more than anything in the world and called her my “gallant gal,” a nickname she loves to hear. That’s just what she is—gallant, indomitable, fearless. May she get well soon!
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Constant Lambert leads the Sadler’s Wells Orchestra in an excerpt from Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty:
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Slowly but surely, theater in America is stumbling into the unknown country of the coronavirus. Yes, the doors of every major company are shut tight for the duration, but a handful of forward-looking troupes, some large and others microscopic, are starting to use the Web to reach out to playgoers from coast to coast who long for the incomparable relief of a show that they can view in the comfort—and safety—of their own homes….
San Francisco’s American Conservatory Theater was about to open the West Coast premiere of Lydia R. Diamond’s “Toni Stone,” directed by Pam MacKinnon, when the coronavirus forced the company to close down. Fortunately, A.C.T. was able to tape and edit a preview performance that is now available for online viewing. The results are hugely impressive, a model for other companies—not to mention Broadway producers—who aspire to putting their productions on the web….
“Toni Stone” is the story of the first black woman ever to play big-league pro baseball, told by an outstanding cast of one woman (very well played here by Dawn Ursula) and eight men, two of whom also appeared in the original production of the play. It was first performed by New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company last spring in a small-scale off-Broadway production, also directed by Ms. MacKinnon, that I reviewed with the utmost enthusiasm, calling it “both thought-provoking and hugely entertaining…Ms. Diamond has given us a masterly play that will open your eyes to an insufficiently known chapter in American history.” I had no doubt that it would be taken up by regional theaters throughout the country, and this video version, a slightly modified remount of Ms. Mackinnon’s Roundabout staging, will undoubtedly hasten that process, for the play and production alike both come through with total clarity. Yes, it’s better to see any play live, but I think you’ll be surprised—I know I was—by how wonderfully well this one comes off as a webcast….
Whenever you watch a sitcom filmed or taped in front of a live audience, you’re seeing a performance shot with three cameras, normally considered the minimum number necessary to produce a watchable program. Not so “Toni Stone”: The company had only two at its disposal. I didn’t know that until after I watched the webcast, edited by Beryl Baker, A.C.T.’s video content producer, and save for a few forgivable bobbles, the camerawork was so smooth and varied that I simply took it for granted that the show was shot with three cameras. Theater companies that are worried about the technical problems of capturing a live performance, as well as the resulting expense of shooting with three cameras, should thus take a close look at “Toni Stone.” They’ll be encouraged—and inspired….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
A montage of scenes from the original Roundabout Theater Company production of Toni Stone:
I wrote the Wall Street Journal’s obituary of Terrence McNally on a two-hour deadline Tuesday afternoon. Even though it was written in great haste, I hope it does him justice. Here’s an excerpt.
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The coronavirus has claimed its first well-known theatrical victim—one who, in the most brutal of ironies, lived through an earlier plague that laid waste to the American stage. Terrence McNally, who died on Tuesday in Sarasota, Fla., at the age of 81, belonged to the generation of gay men who survived the AIDS epidemic and lived long enough to marry their partners. He was one of the very first playwrights to write forthrightly about life in New York’s gay community, which meant almost by definition that he had frequent occasion to write about AIDS, first in “Lips Together, Teeth Apart” (1991) and the Tony-winning “Love! Valour! Compassion!” (1994) and later in “Andre’s Mother” (1990) and “Mothers and Sons” (2013), a pair of plays about a gay-hating mother whose son dies of AIDS.
Not that Mr. McNally had only one subject. He was one of the true professionals of American theater, a hugely prolific playwright who also wrote the books for numerous musicals, the most successful of which were his stage versions of “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (1992) and “Ragtime” (1996). Few seasons went by when a show of his wasn’t running on or off-Broadway—or both. When not in a rehearsal hall, he was more likely than not to be at the opera, and many of his plays, most famously “The Lisbon Traviata” (1989), the story of two men who prefer opera to life, and “Master Class” (1995), a dramatization of the master classes that Maria Callas gave at Juilliard in 1971 and 1972, portrayed various aspects of the claustrophobic world of opera and its obsessive fans.
Given the fact that Mr. McNally came along when he did, I was struck by how cheery a playwright he usually was. He was a funny man who loved to give pleasure, and I felt almost guilty for not liking more of his work more than I did. Part of the problem was that his talent to amuse could lead him astray….
* * *Read the whole thing here.
The press reel of clips from the original 1995 Broadway production of Terrence McNally’s Master Class, starring Zoe Caldwell and Audra McDonald:
I have always loved Frankenthaler’s delicate yet festive art, and when I started collecting fine-art prints in 2003, I knew I wanted to own something by her. She was a prolific, committed, and famously accomplished printmaker, so I did quite a bit of looking and thinking before settling on Grey Fireworks, which was still comparatively new when I bought it. Published by the Lincoln Center/List Poster and Print Program in a pencil-signed sixty-three-color limited edition of 108 copies, it is based, like many other notabe prints, on a preexisting painting of the same name that dates from 1982. According to Frankenthaler, she called it Grey Fireworks because it is “explosive. It’s not gray dismal—it’s gray celebrative.”
The painting, which is privately owned, has been exhibited more than once, most notably as part of a 1989 retrospective of Frankenthaler’s work jointly mounted by New York’s Museum of Modern Art and the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. This excerpt from E.A. Carmean, Jr.’s catalogue entry, which is based on an interview with the artist, describes it nicely:
Grey Fireworks began with a solidly colored surface, here a rich blue gray. Color washes of darker tones were then added, giving the picture its “real construction.” These were followed by the “clumps” of pink and white, distinct shapes set apart from the more diaphanous field, “accents in the shadowy ground,” as Frankenthaler calls them. “I was choosing what seemed like every conceivable color accent to play against gray. But it was important to place specific colors in exact positions to make it all successful.
Grey Fireworks was simultaneously published as a limited-edition print and as a poster. According to the dealer from which I bought it in 2004 at a startlingly reasonable price:
Frankenthaler has done six screenprints for Lincoln Center, all large and all initially offered well below the market price for such a large piece. Each exists as both a signed and numbered Frankenthaler print without text and as an edition produced from the same screens as the hand-signed one on paper with a printed text to be used as a poster by Lincoln Center and to be sold (in an edition of about 500 impressions) for those who cannot purchase the signed and numbered edition. Each is based upon a painting Frankenthaler executed at about the same time and each is produced under her supervision and hand-signed by her. Frankenthaler’s 2000 screenprint for Lincoln Center, Grey Fireworks, produced a near-riot among Lincoln Center’s dealer network, with over eighty dealers left frustrated and printless.
Grey Fireworks hung above and directly behind the couch in the living room of the Upper West Side apartment that Mrs. T and I shared during the first years of our marriage. It was the only space in our tiny two-room home that was big enough to hold it, but it meant that I couldn’t see it while sitting on the couch, which was where I spent most of my time when not at my desk.
When we first saw the much bigger uptown apartment to which we moved in 2010 in preparation for her transplant, I opened the door, took one look inside, and said to Mrs. T, “I think we should hang the Frankenthaler right here—we’ll finally be able to see it from the couch.” So we did, and now I look at it with undiminished delight dozens of times each day. I don’t know whether it’s the piece in the Teachout Museum that I love best, but I think it might just be the one that I’m proudest to own, and Mrs. T feels the same way. We are privileged to live with it.