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Theatre Essays

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Court clashes over free speech Essay

America’s courtrooms have become the new battle front in the continuing culture wars. Currently stuck in a quagmire of litigation is the documentary Damned in the USA. Winner of a 1991 International Emmy, the film examines the ongoing controversy over the National Endowment for the Arts’ funding of controversial and sexually explicit art. British director…

Ian McKellen: poised between exhibitionism and greatness Essay

Knighthood hasn’t changed Ian McKellen’s passion for barnstorming. The headline-making British actor, who’s old enough to know better, actually made touring a condition of his return to London’s Royal National Theatre back in 1990, when artistic director Richard Eyre asked him aboard. He got his wish. The National’s critically acclaimed production of Shakespeare’s Richard III,…

Last-chance dance Essay

Teetering on the edge of the world, the dancers twirl, swirl, shimmy and shake. They tango, fox-trot and two-step while the hours mount into the hundreds. Blisters explode, feet bleed and the band forever plays on. The roaring audience places its bets on which dancers will drop first. Marathon dancing was the sadistic spectator sport…

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Lights! Candelabras! Liberace! Essay

Nov. 22, 1963, lives in infamy as the day John F. Kennedy was shot. But it was also the day that one of America’s best-loved performers nearly poisoned himself to death with his own costumes. Liberace had been feeling ill all day. He was scheduled to play a concert that night in Hershey, Penn., and…

Street Scene Essay

When one character assassinated another’s musical taste in The Lisbon Traviata with the observation, “He’s into crossover albums. He just bought Teresa Stratas in Funny Girl,” I laughed so hard in the theatre, I had to be shushed. The idea of Ms. Stratas, a diva not known for a merry disposition, portraying Ziegfeld comedienne Fanny…

Sydney Walker: just ask Shakespeare Essay

Sydney Walker speaks to the gods. Which ones? William Shakespeare, Charles Dickens, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and other deities of the theatre, who have taken time off their otherworldly duties to talk with the veteran San Francisco actor. Actors will be envious of Walker. Others may be skeptical. But it’s impossible not to believe the…

Take money from thy verse Essay

At the risk of turning my own creeping anecdotage into a shortcut to perceptible truth, I’m prepared to share a tale told me in Houston some months ago, a familiar tale, one might say, about a poet confronted by a mob. Seven young acting interns with Houston’s Alley Theatre were scheduled to perform a mini-version…

Waiting for Godot Essay

Going to see Joseph Chaikin’s production of Waiting for Godot at Seven Stages in Atlanta, I found myself wondering what effect the director’s own “divine aphasia” would have on the “fundamental sounds” of this cornerstone of contemporary theatre. Chaikin has long had a love hate relationship with Beckett’s work. While he’s been repeatedly drawn to…

Volgograd, Ohio Essay

On June 13, the New Experimental Theatre of Volgograd, Russia, opens a Russian-language version of A Streetcar Named Desire – at the Cleveland Play House. By then, the Milwaukee Repertory Theater will have just closed a revival of Our Town – at the Omsk State Drama Theatre in Siberia. At the joint behest of the…

The quality question Essay

We live in a moment of extreme ideological confusion. The Soviet Empire and cold war seem to have have ended almost overnight. Like so many social and political spectacles in America now, the Clarence Thomas – Anita Hill drama seems to have come and gone without an author, and no one with a radical or…

The hero nobody knows Essay

With 37 plays in the Shakespeare canon to choose from, the chances of four American theatres staging one of his most obscure works – Pericles, Prince of Tyre – all during the same winter would seem awfully remote. But to listen to the actors who performed the title role, this convergence of Peticleses isn’t really…

A fire in the basement Essay

A jolt of energy, imagination, color and creativity hit the San Francisco and New York theatre communities this past season, and it came from an unexpected quarter: the Soviet Union. Not from the new Russia, jittery and vibrant with the ongoing process of perestroika; not from the twilight of old Russia, where Chekhov and Stanislavsky…

A vessel too fragile Essay

Among the more ambitious and exotic offerings this season at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Shakespeare Festival is the American premiere of Ophelia, a vivid and compelling variation on the Hamlet story, created by the Kyoto-based NOHO theatre group. NOHO may not exactly be the father of Japanese-American cross-cultural fusion, but it has been so prolific and…

American sentiment, British sensibility Essay

For a country that mounts a lot of American theatre, England doesn’t seem particularly to like it. Reviewing Tina Howe’s Painting Churhes, which expired on the West End after several weeks in February following the worst set of reviews in recent memory, Michael Billington in the Guardia wrote of a “crisis in American drama from…

Art & uprising Essay

The fires are out in Los Angeles, but cultural institutions may have been permanently scorched. It was late in the afternoon of Thursday, April 30, and much of Los Angles was, quite literally, in flames–burning in an uprising sparked by the acquittal of four white police officers in the savage beating of motorist Rodney King….

Atomic circus Essay

When a playwright’s subject is the tortuous machinations of the Federal Government, he doesn’t need a wild imagination to figure out that the most suitable dramatic genre is likely to be farce. As Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s resident playwright John Leicht pored over the yellowing American Civil Liberties Union files of The Progressive case, he discovered…

Bay sayers Essay

Up until the last week of April, the Marsh was located in the back room of an artsy little Mission District espresso joint called Cafe Beano. Patrons would walk in off Valencia Street, maybe get a cup of something or a health-foody hunk of pastry from the cafe counter, and head through a narrow door…

Dark Rapture Essay

In Native Speech, On the Verge and In perpetuity Throughout the Universe, Eric Overmyer manifested a extraordinary command over the tools of language: sound, syntax and image. None exhibited much control over, or interest in, the more mundane devices of the playwright’s art. In Dark Rapture, which premiered at Seattle’s Empty Space Theater in May,…

Hot noir Essay

In Native Speech, On the Verge and In perpetuity Throughout the Universe, Eric Overmyer manifested a extraordinary command over the tools of language: sound, syntax and image. None exhibited much control over, or interest in, the more mundane devices of the playwright’s art. In Dark Rapture, which premiered at Seattle’s Empty Space Theater in May,…

Julianne Boyd & Joan Micklin Silver: A smooth-as-silk partnership Essay

As collaborators, Julianne Boyd and Joan Micklin Silver are a hand-in-glove match. They share the same artistic and political values, they laugh at the same things, they even finish each other’s sentences. So what if they only work together every eight years? They’ll be the first to say they plan their projects in response to…

Lost horizon Essay

I must confess that I am not a proper estimator of theatre in America because I see too few productions. But I have my own experience as reference as well as reports I get from writer, actor and director friends. It seems clear, now in 1992, that we are the end of something. Without indulging…

Moot Essay

When a playwright’s subject is the tortuous machinations of the Federal Government, he doesn’t need a wild imagination to figure out that the most suitable dramatic genre is likely to be farce. As Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s resident playwright John Leicht pored over the yellowing American Civil Liberties Union files of The Progressive case, he discovered…

NEA vetoes unleash protests, walkouts Essay

Escalating controversy leaves the Endowment in disarray Within just two weeks of assuming her position, the new acting chairman of the National Edowment for the Arts sparked a new round of controversy for the agency, creating a volatile atmosphere just as its annual congressional appropriations process was getting underway. Anne-Imelda Radice, who took over the…

Nelson, Newell honored Essay

Actor Ruth Nelson is the recipient of the 1992 Zeisler Award for distinguished service to the nonprofit professional theatre. The award, established in 1986 by Actors Theatre of Louisville producing director Jon Jory and named for TCG’s executive director Peter Zeisler, is given annually by Theatre Communications Group to a director, designer, actor or administrator…

No justice, no peace Essay

The fire is burning/ It lights up the sky/ From high on the rock/ Down into the sea/ It is taking the children/ It is eating the future/ Smother the fire/ Open your hearts. — The Song of Jacob Zulu The fire that rages through Tug Yourgrau’s powerful new play with music, unveiled this spring…

Paul Tazewell: you are what you wear Essay

From Halo Wines’s first entrance as psychoanalyst Melanie Klein in the recent production Mrs. Klein at Washington’s Arena Stage, her costume said worlds about the character’s background and personality. With its somber palette, careful detailing and fine fabric, the beautiful clothing established this woman’s place as a renowned professional living in 1930s London. Paul Tazewell…

Shylock meets Mussolini Essay

Stenciled on a Venetian building are a pair of faces — one black, one white. A sword slices between the heads. “La Difesa de la Razza” (“The Defense of the Race”) reads the terse legend. Welcome to 1937 Italy, the apex of Mussolini’s power and the setting for the California Shakespeare Festival’s season-opening production of…

Steve Tesich: the only kind of real rebel left, he figures, is a moral person Essay

How do political plays function in an apolitical society? What is the purpose of art in a bankrupt culture? Steve Tesich ruminates on these questions with the weariness of on whose work is inseparable from the social context of its time. Alternately wry and wary as he discusses his most recent play, On the Open…

The Ayckbourn sting Essay

Unofficially, and without ever planning it, the city of Seattle has become the site of an Alan Ayckbourn performance festival. Three theatres have independently slated Ayckbourn productions running into the fall, including Seattle Children’s Theatre’s Invisible Friends, and Intiman Theatre Company’s How the Other Half Loves. The major theatres have gotten into a slapjack game…

The redemption of W.B. Yeats Essay

When the clerk in a Dublin bookstore discovered I was interested in William Butler Yeast’s plays, she confessed that she didn’t think much of the man. “Americans,” she said, “are more fond of him than we are.” But when she learned that James W. Flannery’s festival at the Abbey offered all five Cuchulain plays on…

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