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Posts Tagged ‘theatre’

Shakespeare in the Park

April 6, 2016 | by

Meryl Streep and John Cazale in a poster for Measure for Measure.

Thirty-nine years ago last July (that’s thirty-nine steps on your Fitbit), I arrived in New York City from London to spend a postgraduate semester at Columbia. On the first morning, I went into Tom’s Restaurant (later the Seinfeld place) on 112th and Broadway and was immediately overwhelmed by the multiple-choice menu. London, in those days, was not a place of gastronomic variety for breakfast. A waitress of generous proportion came over to my table, “Whaddya want?” she asked. I was speechless, then mumbly, then speechless gain. The waitress waited patiently then said, “Talk to me baby, I’ll listen to you.” This is how I began my American education. Read More »

Whither the Fog Machine? and Other News

March 24, 2016 | by

Photo: Antje Naumann.

  • What does Chris Bachelder’s new novel The Throwback Special have in common with Leonard Michaels’s 1981 book The Men’s Club? Both, as Miranda Popkey writes, are excavations of a certain kind of American white-dude frustration, and both have a chorus of male voices. But The Men’s Club was all sexual bluster and aggression, and The Throwback Special shows how masculinity has changed in the intervening decades: “Bachelder’s reliance on sub-rosa psychological churnings partly reflects his strengths as a novelist: he excels as an analyst of the anxieties that undergird social mores rather than as a dramatist of extravagant scenes. But it also reflects, I think, something about the lives and fears of a number of white American men, circa 2016. These men, Bachelder’s novel seems to argue, see themselves, relative to their forebears, as smaller and weaker and more cautious creatures; they shy away from the overblown tantrums, the explicitly dominant displays, that were once their due … Where The Men’s Club offers over-the-top operatics, The Throwback Special gives us hidden neuroses; as a result, the men of Bachelder’s novel can tend to look, in comparison, diminished.”
  • All right, everyone, we’ve been putting it off for long enough. It’s time to have a good think about the physical properties of stage fog. “Stage fog is a delicate creature: whether as haze that hangs in the air, a thicker vapor, or the low-lying kind that the lighting designer Natasha Katz calls Brigadoon fog—the stuff that wafts like a cloud around the actors’ ankles when it’s kept really cold, and rises higher when it’s not … Often water- or oil-based, sometimes made with dry ice, fog is difficult to control and as evanescent as theater itself—especially the fast-dispersing variety. Actors’ Equity has a whole host of guidelines about using it safely … ‘Fog and its compatriot, low fog, the super-chilled stuff that hugs the floor—those two things eat up more tech time than anything else. You can go for a week and just keep tweaking.’ ”
  • There exists a shadowy cabal hell-bent on overthrowing the modernist artistic tradition. These men loathe Picasso. They spit on Rauschenberg. Graffiti makes them weep. They gather at night … Wait, no, sorry, they gather at eight thirty in the morning in their efforts to restore classical painting to its lost glory. Jacob Collins is their leader. “The stories surrounding Jacob Collins all tend to go like this: a young artist, lonesome in a love for premodernist painting, stumbles upon Collins, who has built a life out of the premise that the twentieth century nearly ruined art … Collins doesn’t just want to revive premodern painting; he wants to live like a classical painter … Collins’s own rigorous studies—starting with classical fundamentals and working up to the live figure—form the basis of the pedagogy. In the first year, students dedicate mornings to cast drawing and cast sculpture, and afternoons go to master copies, block-ins, figure drawings, and perspective. The next year, students spend mornings on cast paintings and afternoons learning figure grisaille and anatomy. Year three involves figure painting in color and color theory, and year four focuses on figure painting in color, figure sculpture, and still life.”
  • You could throw a rock out your window and hit a fan of Mrs. Dalloway or To the Lighthouse. Advocates for Between the Acts, Woolf’s last novel, are harder to come by. Why is it so often overlooked? “Despite the inherent comedy that its setting and action allows—the book describes a pageant staged in the grounds of a country house—it evokes and encompasses, as Woolf herself hoped it would, ‘all life, all art, all waifs, all strays.’ Its ambition and execution—complete with moments of fragmentation, passages of prose poetry and darting movements from one character’s consciousness to another—are strikingly original, daring and yet assured.”
  • While we’re in the more esoteric section of Brit Lit: “Unless you are a scholar of sixteenth and seventeenth century literature you have probably never heard of John Taylor the Water Poet. Or for that matter Robert Greene, the bohemian university wit, or Richard Barnfield, the sodomitical sonneteer … They subvert our expectations of what we have come to consider canonical … We can take this ferryman Taylor, this self-declared ‘water poet,’ as representative of these marginal poets. Considering his conservatism, it may seem contradictory to argue that there is anything transgressive about him. Taylor, who liberally sprinkled his pamphlets with jokes at the expense of his wife, seemed almost achingly conventional … In his poetry, reportage, pamphlets, and reviews Taylor provided a voice so common that it was overlooked in his own time and sadly still often overlooked today.”

The Thunder Runs Again, and Other News

March 9, 2016 | by

The Bristol Old Vic’s thunder run. Photo courtesy Bristol Old Vic

  • Today in the gender binary: using data collected from e-book readers, a start-up called Jellybooks (inspires confidence, no?) has decreed that “men decide much faster than women if they like a story or not.” The company’s founder, Andrew Rhomberg, spoke to the Guardian: “If an author wants to hold on to a male reader, they have ‘only twenty to fifty pages to capture their attention,’ according to the research. ‘No room for rambling introductions … The author needs to get to the point quickly, build suspense or otherwise capture the male reader, or he is gone, gone, gone.” (I didn’t make it to the end of the article.)
  • On her mother’s side, Alex Mar is descended from Juan Ponce de León: yes, Mr. Fountain of Youth himself, conquistador extraordinaire, slaughterer of innocents. Mar has taken a hard look at her ancestor: “The currency of his name, I guess, has made him the only distant ancestor who warrants mention. I’ve heard him spoken of in two registers: in the Grimms’-fairy-tales voice reserved for children, a tone that says, Oh yes, it’s all true and isn’t it incredible?; and in that faux-modest way of adults, that way of deliberately sounding lighthearted about a thing that makes you proud—a thing you’re convinced gives you an edge … Most historians seem to agree that Juan Ponce de León is one of the more humane of these European settlers, treating the locals he absorbs into his enterprise more like indentured servants than slaves. But what does that mean? How thinly do we have to slice these moral distinctions to see the difference? … Do we inherit darkness, even at a few centuries’ remove?”
  • At the Guggenheim, Francine Prose looks at the work of the Swiss duo Peter Fischli and David Weiss, whose mural How to Work Better you may have seen at the corner of Houston and Mott Streets in New York: “The kind of humor captured in the How to Work Better mural—simultaneously playful and sincere, mingling the banal and the profound, attentive to the contradictions, ironies, and accidental beauties of the world—pervades the Guggenheim show … The two- and three-dimensional works, videos, and films manage to be rebellious without being strident, to be witty and cerebral without ever seeming pretentious or coy, to challenge traditional notions of what art is and can do, and to comment on the society in which we live without making us feel that their principal focus is provocation or attacking our politics and social order.”
  • The Bristol Old Vic, a British theater, dates to 1766, and it has the special-effects technology to match. To summon the sound of thunder, for instance, they roll a bunch of wooden balls down a pine-pitch chute built into the rafters. This “thunder run” had been out of commission since 1942—but now it’s back: “Theater historian David Wilmore was enlisted to carry out test runs, and over three days the Bristol Old Vic technical team learned how to use the old-fashioned sound device … Most thunder runs disappeared with the advance of new technology, and other theaters used less cumbersome methods from the start, like metal thunder sheets rattled offstage. These were often joined by rain boxes, which consisted of dried peas rolling through a long structure with ledges nailed inside, and a wind machine, featuring a rotating cylinder of wooden slats covered with fabric.”
  • What if critics dropped the whole burdensome critical apparatus—the long ledes, the cool authority, the markers of taste—and told us about their dreams? Reviewing Rebekah Rutkoff’s The Irresponsible Magician, one critic sees a way of casting off the constrictions of the book review: “I dream, sometimes, that I am reading—just reading—and as I approach the lower pages of a long PDF, my computer’s battery flashes an urgent red. My more exciting dreams lead me on quests to find some precious object or escape some nefarious force. It’s the normal sort of dream-stuff, but for one crucial thing: my dreams always unfold in cavernous and deserted buildings. In my dreams I navigate endless corridors, traverse indoor gardens, and paddle through underground canals. The landscapes I dream up resemble nothing more than malls. Rundown, or even abandoned malls … Commerce snakes its way into each dream-mind’s working—snakes in, loops round fragments of sensation and assembles them as sense. It urges us—as do family, society, language, and law—toward an inner consensus.”

The Play’s the Thing

August 26, 2015 | by

From a 1939 Work Projects Administration Poster.

Whenever you hear about the death of another specialty bookstore—RIP Mystery Bookstore! RIP Cookbook Store!—walk over to that unlikeliest bastion of hope, West 40th Street, and breathe a sigh of relief: the Drama Book Shop abides. And it’s not just that the store is a treasure trove of plays and scripts and monologues and a beloved nurturer of theatrical talent, with a Tony Award to prove it. The Drama Book Shop is a testament to one of the few areas where print still reigns supreme.

Newspapers might be threatened by e-readers, technology may have supplanted books, and recipes can be found online in abundance. But scripts? Scripts are necessary. Scripts are tangible. They bow before no millennial’s avowedly shortened attention span. You can highlight on a Kindle, maybe—but can you annotate? Can you plunk it down at a table reading? (The answer is yes, obviously, but it would be harder, significantly harder, and that’s not nothing.) Read More »

History Boys

October 17, 2013 | by

Arthur-Millerlarge

“Being a playwright was always the maximum idea. I’d always felt that the theater was the most exciting and the most demanding form one could try to master. When I began to write, one assumed inevitably that one was in the mainstream that began with Aeschylus and went through about twenty-five hundred years of playwriting. There are so few masterpieces in the theater, as opposed to the other arts, that one can pretty well encompass all of them by the age of nineteen. Today, I don’t think playwrights care about history. I think they feel that it has no relevance.” —Arthur Miller, the Art of Theater No. 2

 

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On Uncle Vanya: Part Two

July 3, 2012 | by

But how I got to thinking about my drunken love affair, years ago in Saint Petersburg, is Sam Gold’s new production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya, playing now at the Soho Rep.

It’s ninety-nine-cent Sunday, and the line of sweaty New Yorkers edging for shade outside the eighty-seat theater is long. They are bored and tired. It’s a muggy ninety degrees. “We’re never going to get in,” I hear one complain to another; later, outside the bathroom, where they sell vodka shots for three dollars a piece, I hear an excited woman say to her date: “I can’t believe we made it!” Most of the people who stood or sat in line (many since two P.M.) did not see the show. My own guests, who had driven in from the Bronx for the production, were turned away.

“I’m the reviewer,” I tried to convince the guy at the door.

“Man, we don’t get lines like this, even for the Sunday show. I’ll have a revolt. It wouldn’t be fair.”

My friends went to see a movie, and my date and I went to our corner seats, right by the couch where the Professor would later be shot (and not).

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