Tuesday, December 29, 2020

2020 Theater: The Year of Streaming (with a small handful of live theater at the top)

The closest I've come to Times Square since
March 12th. Photo by Zelda Knapp.
I don't need to tell anyone reading this what a terrible year this has been. The devastation has been global, has impacted everyone, and isn't over yet. We're all still hurting. The theater community's wound has been manifold: loss of employment for performers, designers, musicians, stage crew, house staff, box office staff. Loss of an all-too-fragile scaffolding support structure reliant on our ability to gather in large groups for one communal experience, night after night after night. Performance and rehearsal venues, long staples of the Off-Off community, have closed their doors for good. Shows have shuttered permanently while others wait in the wings (so to speak) for their cue to return. And we've lost prematurely far too many artists in the industry, artists whose loss in a vacuum is already devastating, but whose accumulation is too heavy to bear (I know, not all on this list were from COVID, before anyone chimes in with a correction). 

Raise a glass for Terrence McNally, Mark Blum, Adam Schlesinger, William Wolf, Brian Dennehy, Shirley Knight, Peter Hunt, Bernard Gersten, Larry Kramer, Nick Cordero, Brent Carver, Howell Binkley, Herbert Kretzmer, Israel Horowitz, Ann Reinking, Rebecca Luker. For UCB, for Shetler Studios, for the Secret Theatre, for Simple Studios, for the Creek and the Cave. For Frozen and for Then She Fell.

Raise a glass for the fact that we still don't know when theater can safely return in the States, and what will be left of us when it does. (Also randomly, they never got around to having the Tony Awards, even though they released the nominations in October. The Obies, Drama Desks, Lortel, and Antonyo awards were either aired online or released as a list.)

So this is my year-end post, where I list the top shows I saw this year. What do I even write about? I saw 24 shows before the shutdown on March 12th. And then since then I've seen 173 streaming theater pieces (a mixture of archive recordings, formerly recorded broadcasts, quarantine bubble productions with no audience, zoom readings, and hybrid forms of theater and film) (also I have 3-4 items left on my to-watch list for this year). Some of it has been decidedly not good. Some of it has been wonderful, poignant and uplifting. None of it is the real thing, and I still ache at the memory of kinetic energy passing between an enthusiastic audience and a vibrant production. But it's been something. I keep thinking of AJ's speech in The American President:

People want leadership, Mr. President, and in the absence of genuine leadership, they'll listen to anyone who steps up to the microphone. They want leadership. They're so thirsty for it they'll crawl through the desert toward a mirage, and when they discover there's no water, they'll drink the sand.

Replace leadership with live theater and that's where I've landed. I've drunk some sand this year. But. It hasn't all been sand. And too much of my nature is geared toward finding a glimmer of gratitude within my grief. So I've made a list of what was special this year: a smaller one for the live theater, and the rest for what I watched online. You can expect my usual cheats to get in more than just a paltry "Top Ten." It's 2020, the worst year in many of our lives, and I want to remember as much joy as I can.

Godspeed, my loves. We'll be together again.

Monday, December 28, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W52: Meet Me In St. Louis, A Very Very Chance Holiday Cabaret, Cox and Box, A Christmas Carol (x2)

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments

Beloved Broadway soprano Rebecca Luker passed away from ALS, at the age of 59.

Monday, December 21, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W51: Heroes of the Fourth Turning, Coast of Utopia, Two Monsters of Nature, The Prom, A Christmas Carol (x2), One Night Only, Looking A Lot Like Christmas

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments

Theater legend Ann Reinking passed away.

Monday, December 14, 2020

Monday, December 7, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W49: Plaguey Hill, Christmas Spectacular, The Walter Project, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Estella Scrooge, This Wonderful Life

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments

In a stunningly ill-advised move following this year's earlier self-advocacy organization by its many unpaid artists, New York theater company The Flea has fired all of its artists.

Monday, November 9, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W45: Ruddigore, Hamlet, Songs For a New World, The Sins of Sor Juana

 Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, November 2, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W44: The Turn of the Screw

 Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

American Players Theatre's two person adaptation of The Turn of the Screw.

Monday, October 26, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W43: Conflict, It Can't Happen Here, NYGASP, The Real Inspector Hound

 Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, October 19, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W42: Give Me Your Hand, more Together LA, Alfie Boe, Sticks and Stones, A Gatherin' Place, Shipwreck

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched/Heard

Theater Developments

  • The 2020 Tony nominations were announced. Read my thoughts here.
  • Herbert Kretzmer, who wrote the English translation for the Les Miserables long-running hit musical, has passed away at 95.

Thursday, October 15, 2020

2020 Tony Nominations: This Was the Season That Barely Was

 The Tony nominations were announced today and it's a lot of "we did what we could with what was available to us." Aaron Tveit, who starred as Christian in Moulin Rouge!, is the only nominee in Best Actor in a Musical (he still needs to get 60% of the vote to win), which while throwing some shade at Chris McCarrell (The Lightning Thief), also makes me wonder why they didn't just nix the category this season, like they did in 1985. No offense to Aaron Tveit, who is lovely and talented and whom I'd love to see win a Tony someday, but this is a shitty way to win one, and I'm sure he doesn't feel great about it. Meanwhile, we had such a low count of new musicals with original scores (Lightning Thief again) and musical revivals (none opened in time), that the latter category is eliminated and the former populated entirely by original scores written for plays.

In the play categories, Slave Play  and The Inheritance deservedly lead the pack with 12 and 11 noms respectively (Slave Play in fact setting a record with that number), though I am sad to see Kyle Soller's heartbreaking and uplifting performance as Eric in Inheritance left out of the mix (but happy to see Andrew Burnap, ignored by the Drama Desks, recognized here).

I wish I'd gotten to see Tina: The Tina Turner Musical before everything shut down. That, the revivals of Rose Tattoo and Betrayal, and Laura Linney in the one-woman My Name is Lucy Barton are the only shows from the list I didn't catch. (Well, and Linda Vista but I deliberately skipped that one, so I wouldn't say I've been missing it, Bob)

I thought I would have more reactions, once the nominations were finally posted, but we're over half a year away from when Broadway shut down, and so much has happened since then, that I'm having trouble mustering up much emotion to attach to this. I'm generically happy for artists' work being recognized, and I had earlier in the year been upset that it was looking like the work this past season would be swept under the Tony rug, but at this point it feels so much like too little too late. The world is burning, has been burning, for months, we don't know what November will bring, and I can't tell if this is Nero fiddling or the orchestra playing as the Titanic sinks. Neither one is a particularly cheery image.

Monday, October 12, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W41: Together LA and The Reunion

 Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

  • Alternative Theatre Los Angeles presenting a series of of ten minute plays for Together LA: A Virtual Stage Festival (A Fork in the Middle, Edge, Coriola, ON, Love in the Time of COVID)
  • The Reunion concert from the original West End cast of Six.

Theater Developments

  • Broadway has officially extended its shutdown to June 2021.
  • The Tony Award nominations for the curtailed 2019-2020 season will be announced October 15th.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Monday, September 21, 2020

Monday, September 7, 2020

Monday, August 31, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W35: Pirates and others

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Monday, August 17, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W33: Original Theatre, Irish Rep, Encore! Archives Project

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments
  • Long-running Brooklyn-based immersive production Then She Fell announced it is permanently shuttered.
  • Tony winning lighting designer Howell Binkley passed away from lung cancer.

Monday, August 10, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W32: A Strange Loop and Spring Green

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

  • NYPL's A Strange Loop: A Conversation with Michael R. Jackson.
  • Spring Green's American Players Theatre's Out of the Woods readings of An Improbable Fiction, Are You Now, or Have You Ever Been..., and Julius Caesar.

Theater Developments

  • Simple Studios is shuttering.
  • Brent Carver passed away.

Monday, July 20, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W29: Obie Awards et al

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments
The 2020 Obie Awards were held online on July 14.

Monday, July 13, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W28: Mint, Muny, Old Vic, and Brazil

Streaming Theater Related Content I Watched
Past cast members of the Off-Broadway hit The Altar Boyz singing "I Believe."
Short North Stage's production of John & Jen.
Via Mint Theater CompanyThe Fatal WeaknessThe New Morality, and Women Without Men.
The Old Vic's Mood Music.
The Altar Boyz Reunion.
From The Public Theater, Jessica Blank & Erik Jensen's The Line.
National Theatre at Home's The Deep Blue Sea.
The stars of Brazil's run of Wicked, Myra Ruiz and Fabi Bang, singing a showtune medley, Mundo dos Musicais.

Monday, July 6, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W27: R.I.P. Nick Cordero

Broadway actor Nick Cordero passed away yesterday, after three months in the hospital. It’s heartbreaking and awful. Please wear a fucking mask. It’s not a political statement and it’s not oppression. Please wear a mask. Please maintain distance. Please.

Monday, June 29, 2020

Monday, June 22, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W25: No thoughts, just the list

Streaming Theater-Related Content I Watched

Theater Developments

  • The first annual Antonyo Awards were held June 19.
  • Sarah Bellamy wrote a compelling piece for The Paris Review called "Performing Whiteness."
  • The Flea Theater has finally agreed to pay all its artists.

Monday, June 15, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W24: Black Lives Fucking Matter

The last weekend of May and first week of June saw global protests flaring up for Black Lives Matter, as people around the world took to the streets against centuries police brutality and systemic racism. Those protests continue and the fight rages on, even as police come to protests and assault peaceful protestors, medics, legal observers, and journalists. I support these protests and unequivocally condemn police brutality. Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Ahmaud Arbery are only a recent three in an infuriatingly long and storied list of Black people being murdered by law enforcement or by citizens who fancy themselves qualified to police Black bodies. More Black people are being killed by police even as these protests go on. To say Black Lives Matter is the bare fucking minimum. The time for justice is long overdue.

American Civil Liberties Union
A list of funds for supporting Black people, especially those in the queer community. This document also includes bail funds and tips for staying safe while protesting.
A working document on how to be a better anti-racism ally (reading resources and action plans).

Additionally, theater and film artists of color, inspired by the protests, are speaking out about rampant discrimination they've experienced on Broadway, in Hollywood, and beyond, and are asking that we all take advantage of the pause given us by the pandemic to see a more inclusive, more actively anti-racist way forward. Here are a few of their stories:

  • Writer/performer Griffin Matthews shared the story of bringing his musical Witness Uganda (renamed Invisible Thread when produced at 2nd Stage).
  • Performer Cooper Howell shared his experience playing Prince Hans in Frozen at the Hyperion.
  • Performer Bryn Carter shared an open letter she wrote to The Flea Theater about their treatment of her while she was a Bat.
  • Performer Billy Porter shared his experiences and a call to action.
  • Performer Krysta Gonzales shares her letter to the Groundlings about their policies.
  • Playbill reposted Tonya Pinkins's 2015 story of her departure from CSC's Mother Courage and Her Children.
  • David Oyelowo recounted when Selma was punished by The Academy for calling attention to the murder of Eric Garner.
There is also a petition demanding a commitment from American theater to do better. And there is a crowdsourced document of anti-racist theater resources.

I know I haven't always done right. I've had blinders up and not even realized they were there. I am trying to be better.

I didn't watch any theater during the first week of June, but I am slowly returning to watching some things. List below the cut:

Monday, June 1, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W22: A Fallen Fighter

I almost didn't post any of this. It all seems so meaningless, and everything feels so hopeless. The Black Lives Matter movement has been fighting for six years, a fight that has been treading the same infuriating ground for a century longer than that with the simple plea from Black people: stop killing us. Recognize that we are human. Recognize that we matter.

And they're still getting killed. They're still getting murdered, treated with mistrust, given no dignity, no way to safely exist in the world. Lynchings are alive and well and flourishing in the U.S.

So who cares what theater I saw this past week. I honestly don't. I wrote it down, out of habit only. Right now I feel so hopeless about so many things. But because this past week Larry Kramer died, someone who continued to fight when everyone tried to shout him down, who fought for decades, I want to at least say this:

Last week we lost Larry Kramer, a titan of queer writing and activism. He stoked his rage in the inferno of the AIDS crisis, lived with HIV for decades, and survived liver disease and a transplant. He lived longer than statistics said he should have. He lived so long that I expected him to live forever, fueled by his anger at humanity's failings, a twin flame with his belief that there is that within us which can do better, which should do better, which must do better.

He wrote The Normal Heart after he was kicked out of the Gay Men's Health Crisis, an organization he helped found. It is a howling cry of anger, an extended wail of grief. It is also, if you pay attention, a demonstration that even at your most helpless and scared, you can try to do something. Raul Esparza pointed out during the 2004 Off-Broadway revival in which he starred, that it plays now like a Greek tragedy, the audience and players knowing now what none of the characters knew in the play: the name of the disease, the scope and danger of it, and that it still cuts a swath through underprivileged communities. When the play was again revived in 2011, this time on Broadway, Larry Kramer stood by the door, handing out flyers to exiting patrons, reminding them that the events of the play are true, that nearly every character depicted in The Normal Heart is now dead, and that the so far unwinnable fight against the ravages of AIDS continues. He handed out these flyers because he was still fighting, because he had never stopped fighting.

We didn't deserve a man like Larry Kramer, but he fought for us anyway. We didn't deserve him, but we can try to earn him.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Heart to Heart

I miss hugging
I miss pressing my heart to your heart
My ear to your shoulder
Wrapping my arms as far as they will go
Held tight in the wrap of your arms
I miss the hello hug
Immediate and warm, a smile
The goodbye
A squeeze before an exit, perfunctory but felt
The reunion hug, which can last for minutes
To make up for years
I text *hugs* to you
And wrap my arms around myself
Two stacked elbow vees, two hollow ropes
The arms wrap too much, too not ever enough
I roll my shoulders into it, curl my spine, I tuck my head
My heart reaches for your heart but all it hears is an echo
My blood pressure drops, my pulse races
An echo
An echo
I miss
An echo
I miss
Your heart

Monday, May 18, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W20: I finally went back to my spreadsheet

January 1-March 11 of 2020 I have logged twenty-four live theatrical experiences viewed. March 30-today I have an additional fifty-two streamed performances to add to that log: a mixture of archived filmed productions and televised performances, zoom readings of plays, remote concerts, and monologue plays. Some of the streaming content I'd seen before, either in person or at a previous broadcast; some of it's been brand new. None of it is the same as live theater. But, wow, if we had any doubt about my status as a theater junkie, I think that's been asked and answered.

Not much else to say. Nick Cordero is awake, a miracle. Watchlist and other theater developments below the cut:

Monday, May 11, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W19: Two Months

For not-on-Broadway New York theater community and its institutions, the death knells have begun. UCB closing was our first New York domino. Shetler is the second, followed only hours later by LIC's Secret Theatre. The longer this goes on (and prognosticators are saying not to expect theater to be safe any time this year, possibly even next year), more will fall. The pillars of low budget theater, the proving grounds for unknown performers, are beginning to collapse, and who knows if and when replacement scaffolding will be built. It's hard to hold onto optimism right now. While I love seeing theater companies find alternate performance venues online, and I've been trying to support them, one, I know the income they're generating doesn't match what they would make in the before times, and two, what will they find waiting for them when they're permitted to return?

Today is two months since Broadway's last performance. New York's state of emergency is extended to June 7th. For now.

This past week's watchlist and development summary below the cut:

Monday, May 4, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W18: A Moment in Time

Honestly the fact that I am tracking this week by week is one of the few things creating a semblance of a timeline, now when time feels meaningless. At least that's how I'd been feeling (and will probably feel again). But this past week I actually had appointment internet TV, night after night. We started with the Sondheim concert last Sunday, but then we also a SubCulture concert from Jason Robert Brown on Monday night, the benefit reading of Beirut on Tuesday, Richard Nelson's poignant and perfect Zoom play, What Do We Need To Talk About? on Wednesday, and I almost felt like myself again: weeping at good theater. Weeping at the simplicity of words being spoken (or sung).

It's always brief. People have been saying, during each of these, the moment itself transcended enough that they forgot for a few minutes about the pandemic (in fact, the characters in What Do We Need ... say it to each other, after one of the siblings tells a biographical mystery). We forget, and then one turn of phrase twists in our gut, and we remember again. And we mourn. We cry, and we laugh, we applaud for people who can't hear us. And we're grateful we're alive, and we're grieving for what is irrevocably lost, and what is still left to lose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Sondheim in a Pandemic

Illustration by Tug Rice.
As probably everyone who reads this blog knows, there was a big ol' online concert Sunday night to celebrate the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim. After several false starts and three different YouTube links, we were gifted nearly two and a half hours of impossibly beautiful performances of songs from the Sondheim canon. We wept. We screamed. We asked about Melissa Errico's book of Irish Erotic Art (spoiler: it was a gag cover, and an empty book).

At the end of the night, in talking about Sondheim's work and ethos, host Raul Esparza said, "If you can never get it right, then that also means you can never get it wrong. And if you think about that, it means everything is worth trying."

I rewatched the concert the next day and started trying to build a thread of sequential thoughts relevant to now, keeping to the order of the setlist of the 30+ songs performed (including the overtures for both Follies and Merrily We Roll Along at the top of the evening). Some of this is admittedly a stretch, but, well ... enjoy my FrankenSondheim stream of consciousness pandemicbrain.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W17: Where I Am

This week I feel like I reached the acceptance stage, not of our global tragedy (that's a separate staggering grief), but at least of my current cocooned existence. I wake up around the same time each day, I brush my teeth, wash my face, make my bed, log into work remotely, and I exist. That's enough, for now. I've had people ask/assume that I'm writing a lot, with all this time to myself, and no, I'm not. I'm writing my two blogs, but I haven't written any new plays, stories, essays. If I think of something to write, I will, but I'm also not going to punish myself if I don't produce any brilliance out of all this beyond surviving. Surviving is enough.

In the darker recesses of my soul, it seems callous to me to dream of creating something brilliant out of this needless tragedy, this long moment in time that is killing so many people, and will forever scar those they leave behind. I am not saying it is callous to produce art. God, we need art. We need it desperately. I am so grateful to those who are producing art, and sharing it with us. But part of my current survivor's guilt, at still having a job, at having been sick but fully recovered, is also this whisper in my gut.

So I suppose that's where I'm at right now. I do remain impressed with and grateful to those who are able, not just to function, but to create. This past week Joshua William Gelb and his Theater in Quarantine experimentation finally presented a live performance, and this Wednesday Richard Nelson will present his newest play in The Apple Family series, written for this specific time and circumstance, called What Do We Need to Talk About? Conversations on Zoom. And last night, after an hour of technical difficulties, we got the Sondheim concert we could never have gotten in person, and we melted down online.

My past week's watchlist, and a brief list of theater developments, below the cut:

Monday, April 20, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W16: One Month In, and Counting

As of this past week, most New Yorkers in non-essential jobs have been homebound for a month. I've left my building three times since this began, twice for groceries, once to pick up a prescription.

As the span during which public gatherings (including attending my beloved live theater) are unsafe stretches further and further ahead of us, I'm quietly grateful that the last play I saw was The Inheritance and the last musical Six. At least I said goodbye to the season well, even if we didn't know it was goodbye at the time. Everything else is just quiet worry, grief, and fear.

This past week's watchlist and theater developments below:

Monday, April 13, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W15: Coping Mechanisms

Another hard week for everyone. I don't have a new insight for us this time. I hope those who celebrate had a festive Seder (I participated in a family one via Zoom) and/or a good Easter. I hope those who celebrate, celebrated still in isolation and safety.

Here's my positive thing to report: my brilliant friend Marissa and I had planned to watch the Tim Minchin arena tour production of Jesus Christ Superstar on Andrew Lloyd Webber's site but we forgot about time zones and missed our window (yes, we know it's on Prime to rent) and instead made good use of our time by planning the One True Good Revival of our favorite raccoon musical (it is a trash panda and we love it anyway). Someone please give us lots of money so we can produce it properly.

See below for other actual theater things, including this week's watch list and new developments on the theater landscape.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Weekly Margin 2020, W14: Filmed Theater, Remote Art

I remember once having a spirited online discussion with a friend about the validity of filmed theater. She feared that people would assume filmed theater was the same as live theater, and that it would 1, not give people the true and wonderful experience of live theater (and therefore make them think theater isn't all that much), and 2, deter people from attending live theater in favor of watching filmed theater from the more affordable movie theater seat, or even sitting at home.

I understand her point. You can only capture so much of a performance when you film it, and for that matter, all you're capturing is one performance. One of theater's greatest virtues is that it is ephemeral. What you see at one performance will never be perfectly repeated. The essence and story, yes (we hope), but it changes. And of course with a filmed performance, the viewer lacks that interpersonal connection that is achieved in live theater: our ability to give back, even in part, a thanks and tribute for the performance given us, be it applause, laughter, or tears.

But I can't dismiss the entire enterprise. My first experience of Into the Woods (and the beginning of my deep affection for the works of Stephen Sondheim) was watching the PBS broadcast of the OBC in my dad's apartment when I was a kid. I didn't fool myself that the video was the be-all end-all of theater, but my goodness what a precious archival document of the original production and those performers. What a boon that gives more than just reading a script or listening to a cast album. We as a theater community have been blessed with many filmed performances of Sondheim's various works (in recent years, due almost entirely to the efforts of Lonny Price, bless him). The video of Into the Woods wasn't live theater, but it was a taste. A sample. A gateway. A chance for those of us without access either to see these productions live or to see quality live theater locally, to see what it could be, what we could do. What we might do.

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