The Daily

Posts Tagged ‘theater’

Is There a Doctor in the House? And Other News

October 30, 2015 | by

An ad for a show at the Grand Guignol.

  • In search of some cosmic horror, something to give you seasonally appropriate nightmares, something outside the realm of the usual Lovecraft stuff? Try William Hope Hodgson, who in the early twentieth century “envisioned the end of the Earth in the distant future: 1908’s The House on the Borderland features it in hallucinatory form, while 1912’s The Night Land is set at a point where the sun’s light has dimmed.” Or try Thomas Ligotti, in whose stories “the truths about the world that people discover are enough to tear them apart—sometimes literally. His protagonists often find themselves facing forces far beyond their ability to grapple with or comprehend. The therapist narrating ‘Dream of a Manikin’ is, ultimately, trapped in a series of collapsing realities; what begins as a simple, Twilight Zone-esque twist to the narrative gives way to a series of revelations beside which a simple ‘everything you know is a lie’ would be a comfort.”
  • Since the Tin Pan Alley era, if not earlier, pop music has been likened to an assembly line: even today people like to joke about “the hit factory,” imagining the sleek, automated, international manufacturing process that generates our Top 40. But isn’t the metaphor a bit stale, by now? “A more accurate and illuminating way to understand today’s pop might be to think of it as post-­industrial, a phenomenon not of the machine era but of the information age. Music is made today by mining the vast digital repository of recordings of the past, or by emulating or referencing them through synthesis, and then manipulating them and mashing them up—with the human fallibility and genius that have always laced popular music and probably always will. Indeed, it is accessing and processing—the methods that digitalization facilitates—rather than gearing and stamping for uniformity and mass production that distinguish twenty-first-century pop. Like machine-age plants everywhere, the song factories have closed, and the work of the day is being done electronically.”
  • And just as we’re fond of the “hit factory” metaphor, who doesn’t enjoy a casual Grand Guignol reference from time to time? And yet who among us knows a thing about the actual Grand Guignol? “The Grand Guignol was originally founded in 1895 by French playwright Oscar Méténier. He purchased an old chapel located at the end of a tight alley, leaving the gothic, religious decorations intact. Wooden angels hung from the ceiling, and towered over the orchestra … In 1897, the theater was taken over by Max Maurey, who leaned into the Grand Guignol as a space for straight-up horror. Under Maurey’s leadership, the theater ran a variety of plays, ranging from comedies to dramas … He was said to judge the success of a given play by the number of audience members who passed out. As a publicity stunt, he also hired a house doctor to administer to those who were adversely affected by the horrors on display … Under Maurey’s leadership, the plays at the Grand Guignol began focusing on tales of insanity, hallucination, and, above all, terror … involving figures like a child-killing nanny, a mad doctor who performs a vengeful lobotomy, and jealous women who stick a pair scissors in the eyes of a more beautiful woman.”
  • James Baldwin’s once splendorous home in the Cote d’Azur is in shambles now, as Thomas Chatterton Williams discovered when he broke in: He found “an extremely wide and shallow expanse of overgrown grass, orange trees, cypresses, wild lavender, and palms that gives sweeping views of the walled town above, the sun-drenched valley below, and, in the distance, the Mediterranean’s rippling sheen. The stone barrier wall had been broken a truck’s width and re-sealed with a chain-link fence that begged to be circumvented. I crouched and pulled out the cinderblock that stabilized it … I could not stop myself from attaching a deep significance to that ruined house in the foothills of the Alps, overlooking a distant sea. The thought that one of the most gifted and munificently alive writers of the twentieth century, the quintessential black American in France, would soon be rid of his only geographical footprint … struck me as unbearably sad.”
  • Ai Weiwei ordered Legos in bulk. The corporation refused to fulfill his order, claiming that they “cannot approve the use of Legos for political works.” This made Ai Weiwei upset, as one might imagine. He decided to procure Legos the old-fashioned way: through the sunroofs of BMWs. “Ai Weiwei would like to rent, borrow or buy second-hand a BMW 5S Series sedan, of which the color can vary, as a Lego container,” he wrote on his Instagram. “The vehicle must have clear windows and a sunroof that can be fixed open with a five cm opening so that people can insert Legos … The car should be parked and locked in a central location of the city that can be easily accessed by the public. The vehicle should remain in the parking space for one month or a longer period of time, preferably in a location related to arts or culture, indoor or outdoor.” Some laud his willfully bizarre effort to fight censorship. Others think it’s what Jed Perl has called “political kitsch”: “one wonders where the political dissent ends and the artsy attitudinizing begins.”

Ham on Rye

October 7, 2015 | by

John Barrymore in 1920.

Some years ago, a friend who works in real estate let me see the Greenwich Village apartment that had belonged to John Barrymore; I had read about it and was thrilled to see the interior. Today its rent is beyond the reach of most mortals, but even when Barrymore moved there, in 1917, the building had a distinct bohemian chic—it had been remodeled by the architect Josephine Wright Chapman. Still, the nineteenth-century row house was modest by matinee-idol standards. Barrymore took the place while he was appearing on Broadway in Hamlet. He was not yet considered tragic or ridiculous or a parody of himself, though he was on the way.

To the modern eye, the light-filled studio with its window seat, skylight, and fireplace are magical enough, even with a tiny bedroom and no real kitchen—indeed, this sort of adds to the charm. Up a narrow ladder, on the roof, was a hut that Barrymore had built: a single weatherproofed room with a vaulted ceiling. The playwright Paul Rudnick rented the studio in the 1980s, and as he wrote in the New Yorker, he was “smitten.” Read More »

Jeanne Dielman Forever, and Other News

October 6, 2015 | by

A still from Jeanne Dielman.

  • The filmmaker Chantal Akerman, whose 1975 movie, Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, is arguably “the first masterpiece of the feminine in the history of the cinema,” has died at sixty-five. “Jeanne Dielman is a real-time study of a middle-aged widow who lives with her teenage son in a small Brussels flat. The film follows her as she completes drab domestic tasks and tries to make ends meet through occasional prostitution … The long, frank takes featured in Jeanne Dielman were a feature of Akerman’s work.”
  • As a theater director, Bryan Doerries aims to revitalize the power of the medium: his company performs Greek tragedies at full-tilt for audiences at schools, hospitals, prisons, and army bases, and his goal is catharsis in the fullest sense of the word. “Theater is able to do something that no other medium can achieve,” he says. “It leads disparate audiences into a profound communion … We have lost touch, as a culture, with the importance of coming together and confronting what it means to be human as a community. Theater, and tragedy in particular, has the power to do this … Theater still has the power to create a sacred space, in which we are transported out of our quotidian reality and brought into contact with the transcendent, the heroic, the mythic, and with one another. We still hunger, I think, for this experience, as people, as a culture. And in some ways, because it’s so rare, it’s all the more overpowering and effective when we encounter it.”
  • Today in unlikely longevity: New Hampshire’s Yankee magazine has been around since 1935, and it’s navigated, somehow, many epochal changes in media. What’s its secret? Listen carefully: cover fall foliage as if it’s Mardi Gras, never change, and appeal to a boring, affluent, aging readership. Yankee stands tall because of, not in spite of, its stupefying predictability: “There are tips on travel to destinations like Narragansett Bay, in Rhode Island, and recipes for Boston cream pie and needhams (an old-fashioned Maine candy made with mashed potatoes). Ads for regional businesses and New England wares still fill the magazine, which now comes out six times a year. The much loved Swopper’s Column—a classifieds page for unusual objects, which first appeared in the magazine’s fourth issue—was not discontinued until 2013.”
  • On Robert Zemeckis’s The Walk, which has at its center a stunt that cinema has been waiting for a long time: “Two twenty-first-century phenomena have changed the way moving pictures are made and perceived. The first is the accelerating use of digital technology and the inexorable rise of a cyborg cinema that, by combining animated and photographic images, compromises the direct relationship to reality that had long been the medium’s claim to truth. The second is the trauma of September 11, 2001, which for many provided the ultimate movie experience that was more than a movie—spectacular destruction, broadcast live, and watched by an audience, more or less simultaneously, of billions.”

An Inglorious Slop-pail of a Play

September 8, 2015 | by

Alfred Jarry, cruising.

When the French playwright Alfred Jarry—born on this day in 1873—was fifteen, he enjoyed lampooning his physics teacher, a plump, inept man who so amused his students that he became the subject of Jarry’s first attempt at drama, Les Polonais, staged with marionettes when he was still in short pants. Père Heb, as the physics teacher was called in it, had a prominent gut, a retractable ear, and three teeth (stone, iron, and wood). These features by themselves make him a distinctive figure in the history of French drama. But years later, Jarry revived Heb—as all responsible playwrights do with their juvenilia—making him somehow even more ridiculous, even more obese, and putting him at the center of Ubu Roi, a play so contentious that its premiere, in December 1896, was also its closing night. It lives in the annals of drama because it offended almost everyone who saw it. In this, it prefigured modernism, surrealism, Dadaism, and the theater of the absurd. Read More »

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins on His Play Neighbors

May 28, 2015 | by

My First Time” is a new video series in which we invite authors to discuss the trials of writing and publishing that first novel, that first play, that first book of poems. Consider it a chance to see how successful writers got their start, in their own words—it’s a portrait of the artist as a beginner and a look at the creative process, in all its joy, abjection, delusion, and euphoria.

Today, the playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins talks about his first play, Neighbors, which debuted at the Public Theater in 2010. He wrote it when he was twenty-three. “I’m gonna write this play about race,” his thinking went, “so that I don’t have to write more plays about race”:

But what the play taught me, and why I’m thankful for it, is that the room is really wide and long ... race is about psychology, it’s about acculturation, it’s about permissions that audiences give themselves, it’s about how people relate to space, how people feel like they belong or don’t belong ... it’s about, Who’s the butt of a joke, and what’s the joke?

Yesterday we heard from the cartoonist Gabrielle Bell, and on Monday the novelist J. Robert Lennon kicked off the series. Tomorrow we’ll feature Christine Schutt. You can also see a trailer featuring writers from future installments of “My First Time.”

This series is made by the filmmakers Tom Bean, Casey Brooks, and Luke Poling; we’re delighted to collaborate with them.

4: “Here Was the Famous Voice”

March 27, 2015 | by

“A Farce Written in Human Blood,” pp. 70–89


This is the fourth entry in our Mating Book Club. Read along.

So here he is, after all this setup: Denoon—the anthropologist beyond anthropology, the man who until this chapter had been kept behind the margins as if in the wings, behind a curtain. Because his entrance here, now, is a stage entrance—he’s going to give us a performance.

Here we have a party whose entertainment consists of an anthropologist’s lecture costumed as an anthropologist’s debate—with politicians, about politics—in the thickly caked makeup of a play: “A Farce Written in Human Blood: THE DESTRUCTION OF AFRICA ACCELERATED BY HER BENEFACTORS, PRESENT COMPANY NOT EXCEPTED.” The caps are Rush’s. Then there’s this heading: Act II. But where was Act I? Did we miss it? We did. Our unnamed narrator gives us access to Denoon only after he’s finished (verbally) demolishing capitalism (rather, “excoriating the capitalist development mode for Africa”)—socialism is next.

But before we get into Denoon’s “objections to the socialist remedy for Africa,” let’s ask a question: Why did Rush write this section as a drama? Why not as a thoroughgoing narrated scene? Read More »