Thursday, April 2, 2020

For Adam Schlesinger

Yesterday Adam Schlesinger died of complications of coronavirus. I didn't know him personally, though I loved his work. I don't feel right claiming a part of the grief of those who did know him and love him. But I mourn. It's awful, it's unfair, and none of this is okay. Even if you don't recognize his name immediately, I guarantee you've heard and enjoyed a song he wrote.

And this is all I can think of:

"The Dead Poet," by Lord Alfred Douglas

I dreamed of him last night, I saw his face
All radiant and unshadowed of distress,
And as of old, in music measureless,
I heard his golden voice and marked him trace
Under the common thing the hidden grace,
And conjure wonder out of emptyness,
Till mean things put on beauty like a dress
And all the world was an enchanted place.

And then methought outside a fast locked gate
I mourned the loss of unrecorded words,
Forgotten tales and mysteries half said,
Wonders that might have been articulate,
And voiceless thoughts like murdered singing birds.
And so I woke and knew that he was dead.

Monday, March 30, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W13: What We Lost, Whom We Lost, What Will Return

I'm not sure what to write for these at the moment. The instinct is to keep going, to keep producing something, if only a brief chronicle of what it is to be here right now. I'm sitting alone at home, in self-enforced quarantine because I'm 98% certain I caught COVID-19 (stay calm, I'm fine right now, I don't have a fever, I can breathe fine, yes I have people checking on me, and I love you too. Sidenote: losing your sense of smell is unnerving as hell). The times are strange, people are sick, people are jobless, people are scared. People are making art. People are dying.

Last week, the Broadway productions of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? and Hangmen announced that they would not be returning when this is over. Meanwhile some productions have elected to defer their runs to the fall season, including Lincoln Center's Intimate Apparel and Flying Over Sunset and Roundabout's Birthday Candles and Caroline, or Change. I note that the delayed-but-returning productions so far announced are produced by two of NY's biggest not-for-profit theater companies. Another not-for-profit, City Center Encores!, has canceled the remainder of its season, while NYTW and CSC are suspending but holding out hope to return. We don't yet know the fate of the majority of the commercial productions. Theater award ceremonies like the Tonys and the Outer Critics have delayed to unspecified dates. I'm sure there will continue to be further developments, and I'll try to chronicle them here.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W12: What I Didn't See, and a Memory of Such Stuff

This week I was supposed to see The Minutes at Second Stage, Caroline or Change at Roundabout, and Love Life at City Center. While I'm still quietly holding out hope that I'll see Caroline eventually, I have no expectations for the others, and I'm glad everything's shut down to try to keep as many people safe as possible. For now, that has to be enough.

I keep thinking I should make my usual list of the Spring season, look into ticket lotteries, rush policies, their presence on tdf. Making this list has been on my To Do calendar for a few weeks. Now it seems like a task designed to invite more heartbreak, wondering which shows are never to be.

I thought instead of looking forward into an unknowable future, and with no current theater to discuss, perhaps I should look back further.

Monday, March 16, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W11: The Inheritance, Part Two

3/11/20: The Inheritance, Part Two
What was supposed to be just my own personal farewell to this gorgeous production became, retroactively, the show's closing night. Theater is shut down now for the duration, to stem the exponential spread of contagion. My heart breaks for performers and other people employed by the theater industry, for shows shut down, for productions postponed or canceled, for productions in that terrible limbo that don't know if they're merely postponed or fully canceled. I am sad for all of us, and hope that these measures do what they're meant to do, and that we can all get through this.

Theater is a place for people to come together. Right now part of that togetherness is agreeing to physical distance, for all our health. And at least we have the internet, the introvert's playground. To life, my friends. L'chaim.

Monday, March 9, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W10: Dracula, The Inheritance, Part One, Six, Anatomy of a Suicide

3/03/20: Dracula
What: Classic Stage Company presents Kate Hamill's new feminist take on Bram Stoker's novel.
And? Really pretty great take on the story, with a stellar cast, especially Jessica Frances Dukes as Van Helsing, Kelley Curran as Mina, Matthew Saldivar as Seward, and playwright Hamill as Renfield. Loved the costume design by Robert Perdziola, mixed feeling about the sound design by Leon Rothenberg (occasional moments of wtf-ery, but other moments, particularly transitions, which worked very well).

Kelley Curran, Jamie Ann Romero, and Jessica Frances Duke as Mina Harker,
Lucy Westenra, and Doctor Van Helsing. Photo by James Leynse.

3/05/20: The Inheritance, Part One
a repeat visit before the production ends

3/06/20: Six
What: A rock concert of six women who happened to have married Henry VIII.
And? I effing loved it. Great songs, great performers, kinetic staging. An absolute delight.

Abby Mueller, Samantha Pauly, Adrianna Hicks, Andrea Macasaet,
Brittney Mack, and Anna Uzele as Jane Seymour, Katherine Howard,
Catherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Anna of Cleves, and Catherine Parr.
Photo by Liz Lauren.

Monday, March 2, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W9: Twelfth Night, Hamlet, A Man of No Importance

2/27/20: Twelfth Night
What: Hamlet Isn't Dead is back at it!
And? Pure delight. Full review here.

Stephanie LaVardera and Mike Marcou as Countess Olivia and Sir Toby Belch.
Photo by Valerie Terranova.

2/29/20: Hamlet
What: St. Ann's Warehouse, in association with Kate Pakenham Gate Theatre Dublin, presents the Shakespearean heavyweight of dramas, starring Irish superstar Ruth Negga.
And? I'm really surprised to be writing this, but I was left mostly unmoved by this production. Ruth Negga was excellent as Hamlet, and Aoife Duffin heartbreaking as Ophelia, but for most of the first half, it felt like no one else onstage much cared what happened next. And the first half is nearly two hours. Claudius and Gertrude woke up a bit in the second half, and the last ten minutes of the show are breathtaking, but that's not enough ultimately, especially with a few questionable design choices (why the rain? why the plastic curtain? why the zombie moment?).

Ruth Negga, center, as Hamlet with company. Photo by Teddy Wolff.

Sunday, March 1, 2020

Margin Notes: Twelfth Night

Photography by Valerie Terranova.
Twelfth Night

Seen on: Thursday, 2/27/20.
My grade: A

Plot and Background
Cast ashore after a shipwreck and mourning her twin brother whom she believes dead, Viola disguises herself as a young man to work for Count Orsino (whom she secretly loves) and delivers love missives from Orsino to Olivia, who finds herself falling for young Cesario/Viola. And we haven't even gotten to Malvolio, Sir Toby, Sir Andrew, and Sebastian! Hamlet Isn't Dead brings its patented playful (and tuneful) bent to this beloved comedy.

What I Knew Beforehand
I've lost count of how many Hamlet Isn't Dead productions I've gotten to see and review over the years, and of course I also know Twelfth Night very well, having seen multiple productions of it.


Play: What a good good night at the theater. This production is a complete and utter delight, from pre-show to curtain call. HID is only getting better, and this is their strongest comedy yet. Their quick and playful style is so well-suited to the humor of the play, from the muttered asides to the live music to the determination to breathe life and energy into the text. Even the cast bios are a riot. Director James Rightmyer Jr. strikes a good balance between the hilarious antics of the clowns and the more poignant pain (and sweet reconciliation) of the two twins separated. I had such a delightfully good time at this show, often laughing embarrassingly loud. Definitely recommend catching this one while you can!

Monday, February 24, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W8: Mack & Mabel

2/20/20: Mack & Mabel
What: City Center Encores! presents the Jerry Herman not-quite-a-classic about the ill-fated romance between silent film director Mack Sennett and his star Mabel Normand.
And? When Encores! presented Hey, Look Me Over, a revue of songs from various forgotten shows, Douglas Sills and Alexandra Socha performing a few numbers from Mack & Mabel was the standout, and I remember writing here that I would love for Encores! to present the full show with these two in the lead. Well, they heard my plea and did it, and now we have a bit of Be Careful What You Wish For. I just don't like this show. It's tonally a mess, it's not nearly as funny as the real life work of its two stars would seem to demand it be, and when we finally got to "When Mabel Comes in the Room" (aka "Hello, Dolly," aka "Mame"), I sat back, completely disconnected and thought, "well, I guess Jerry Herman writes this song for every show." Outside of the writing, I don't have a lot of positive to say about this production. I think it's clumsily staged and choreographed, and doesn't use its A-list cast to particular advantage. Sills is wonderful but even he with his effortless charisma can't make me like Mack. Socha fares better because she has the better part, and generally the better songs. But sigh. On the plus: Encores! did what it was made to do, give us a chance to see not-often-produced musicals with full orchestra and stellar cast. On the minus: we see why they're seldom produced. At least I now know where the Keystone Kops originated.

Alexandra Socha and Douglas Sills as Mabel and Mack. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Monday, February 10, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W6: Dear Evan Hansen

2/05/20: Dear Evan Hansen
a repeat visit for a friend's birthday.
Quick thoughts: What's striking now is just how potent Ben Platt's performance was, both for holding the center of the show, and for encouraging the audience to forgive his character perhaps more than he deserves. Zachary Noah Piser was great, but Platt was that little something extra. Now the show's heart belongs much more to the two mothers, and I feel very lucky I got to see Christane Noll and Jessica Phillips, who led the national tour, take on the roles here. Heartbreaking and fully complicatedly human.

Also just because I love this so much, please watch Russell Harvard's amazing ASL performance of "Waving Through a Window":

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

My Digital Couch: A Conversation with Renaissance Woman Emily C. A. Snyder

Photo by Lisa LaGrande.
Emily C. A. Snyder is no stranger to the stage, exploring and creating theater as an actor, singer, playwright, director and producer. She founded her own company, TURN TO FLESH PRODUCTIONS, dedicated to developing and producing new plays in heightened text. In February Snyder will be starring in TTF's new production, Juliet and Her Romeo, a re-examination of William Shakespeare's famous tragic romance, written by Snyder herself. She sat down with me on my digital couch recently to talk about her journey to this moment.

This interview has been edited for length.

Z: Emily, let's start with your writing background. How long have you been writing verse plays, and what drew you to that particular style of storytelling?
ECAS: It's funny: I started writing verse plays because the director I was collaborating with wouldn't let me write an opera!  That was in 2008, when I first started writing Cupid and PsycheThe themes of that story were so huge, they had to be in music or verse - and she chose verse.

Working in this heightened text, it felt like it burst me open at the seams.  Prior to that, I'd made a career of writing fairy tale and farces, but all of those prose plays remained fairly light.  Working in verse required me to bare parts of my soul in epic poetry that hadn't been open to me before.  It was the opportunity to work more truly, more rawly, more universally, to go into the dark in order to find the light. 

Because characters can speak in soliloquy, too, we have the opportunity to really delve into a person's psyche: thoughts that they'd never dare express out loud.  There's something intimate and exciting in that. 

Z: Ah, so you turned your arias into soliloquies! Neat trick. :)
ECAS: Haha!  Yes, basically arias become soliloquies!  And I definitely hear verse as spoken music: tempo, changing time signatures, etc.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W4: Grand Horizons, Harry Townsend's Last Stand, Forbidden Broadway: The Next Generation

1/22/20: Grand Horizons
What: Second Stage presents a new play by Bess Wohl about an elderly couple who casually decide to divorce, and their adult sons who refuse to accept this decision.
And? Yikes but I did not like this at all. I felt like I was watching a family of half-sketches making mean-spirited jabs at each other's expense, all played for laughs, like I was at a live taping of a CBS three-camera comedy, because also I laughed exactly once. Michael Urie and Ashley Park were both good (Ben McKenzie, for the record, was not), but I was so bored, annoyed, and disengaged that I instead started longing for the earlier, better plays I'd seen them both in. Why were we subjected to this? I saw playwright Bess Wohl's Small Mouth Sounds at Signature and it was engaging and unusual; how did she then turn out this predictable, conventional unfunny comedy?

Ashley Park, Michael Urie, Jane Alexander, and James Cromwell as Jess, Brian,
Nancy, and Bill. Photo by Joan Marcus.

1/23/20: Harry Townsend's Last Stand
What: MTC presents George Eastman's play: Harry Townsend values his independence but is in denial about his own inability to look after himself--a contradiction which comes to a head when his adult son Alan comes to visit and try to convince him to move to an assisted living facility.
And? Not as bad as Grand Horizons, but not especially great. The play sometimes felt as scattered as Harry's mind. Craig Bierko did great work.

Len Cariou and Craig Bierko as Harry Townsend and Alan Townsend.
Photo by Maria Baranova.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W2: Jagged Little Pill, The Woman in Black, Judgement Day, London Assurance, The Inheritance, Parts One and Two

1/08/20: Jagged Little Pill
What: A new jukebox musical combining an original script by screenwriter Diablo Cody and the song catalog of Alanis Morissette to tell the story of a suburban family struggling for perfection--or at least the veneer of perfection--whose various crises come to a head when a student is assaulted at a party.
And? My dad and I wrote recently about how Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and even Dear Evan Hansen owe a large debt to the Pulitzer-winning next to normal for its nuanced approach to struggling with mental illness, and the inability to achieve a perfectly tied bow of a conclusion. This show, too, is a descendant of next to normal, though it takes a different spin with Mary Jane, the suburban housewife and mother of two teens, addicted to pain medication, suffering from undiagnosed PTSD, and unwilling to confront her own demons until they threaten to tear her entire family apart. There's more to the show than that, and that's actually a bit thrilling in itself--that it's not nearly so tidily and tightly focused as musicals--especially jukebox musicals--often are. There's also the all-star son Nick, struggling with his conscience over being a passive bystander; there's adopted daughter Frankie, angry activist, bisexual, and newly attracted to a boy; there's Frankie's best friend/partner Jo, watching helpless as Frankie drifts away; there's Bella, the victim of the assault, guarded and defensive and confused (there's also Steve, the husband, but his struggles are mostly surrounding his relationship with Mary Jane and hey, it's fine if he takes a backseat on this one). All this is interesting and at times even compelling, particularly when the rallying cry is finally sounded in support of Bella. However, the show still falls prey to that which plagues all jukebox musicals: how well do the songs actually fit the narrative--not just the emotional essence but the specific narrative beat? And that doesn't always work out. They come closest with Jo, as played by Lauren Patten, who charms with "Hand in My Pocket" and knocks it out of the damn park with "You Oughta Know," but in other numbers when two characters from vastly different angles and backgrounds share the same lyric, it loses some of its authenticity and specificity (understanding the lyrics when sung by the full ensemble is also an occasional challenge). I'm also not wild about Riccardo Hernadez's scenic design, especially with that many ambiguous entry and exit points (gonna call out director Diane Paulus for this too--I need consistent world rules), and the seemingly arbitrary sliding in and out of the band's platforms (coupled with the I-guess-this-is-a-concert-now? lighting work by Justin Townsend). Those complaints aside, this thing is badass in a lot of ways. Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui's choreography is fluid and kinetic and performed seemingly effortless by a crazy gifted ensemble. The staging of "Smiling" and "Uninvited" are particularly hauntingly crafted, the voices are great, and the story is relevant.

Elizabeth Stanley and Kathryn Gallagher as Mary Jane and Bella,
with company. Photo by Matthew Murphy.

1/09/20: The Woman in Black
What: The McKittrick Hotel (famed home of the long-running Sleep No More) hosts the even-longer-running The Woman in Black, this time sharkening back to the play's original pub staging, by hosting it in their upstairs Club Car restaurant.
And? I suppose when I saw the language that it was originally staged in a pub, along with the fact that it was hosted by the McKittrick, I assumed this would be immersive, so I'll say upfront that it is not. It is instead an intimate performance, but largely similar to that which is still running on the West End (some of the staging, like the staircase behind the scrim, or the disappearance into the orchestra pit, had to be scrapped and replaced with something better suited to the space). It's marvelous. As my friends know, I am a longtime fan of this play, and the two stars of this run, David Acton and Ben Porter, are absolutely terrific. As an added treat: at times one can hear--and feel--the louder moments of Sleep No More's soundscape coming up from the floor (the Club Car is on the sixth floor); and then, on our exit, we took the elevator down to the lounge and got to pass through the maze. I hadn't been back to the McKittrick since August 2012, so that was a nostalgic return for me.

Monday, January 6, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W1: A Soldier's Play, Slava's Snowshow, The Inheritance, Parts One and Two

1/02/20: A Soldier's Play
What: Roundabout presents Charles Fuller's 1982 Pulitzer prize winning play, about the investigation of a murder on a military base of a black sergeant in the American South during the second world war.
And? A wonderful cast, from the television stars to the Broadway debuts, ably directed and staged by Kenny Leon. The play itself is a compelling examination of the racial tensions and nuances of what it meant to be the "right" kind of black man at the time in order to earn respect from white colleagues, and a sobering reminder that the more things change, the more things stay the same.

1/03/20: Slava's Snowshow
A lovely revisit before the run concluded, and this one had Slava himself stepping in for part of Yellow's track (namely, the opening rope sequence, and the second act), as well as the cutest child Green in the world.

1/05/20: The Inheritance, Parts One and Two
a repeat visit