Monthly Archives: November 2017

“The Mother Of Us All” in marvelous Hudson New York

The Mother of Us All
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Nov 14, 2017

“The Mother of Us All”

The Mother of Us All
“The Mother of Us All,” is composer Virgil Thomson’s second operatic collaboration with the avant-garde writer Gertrude Stein. It bowed at Columbia University in 1947, close after Stein’s death, and has often been performed in many smaller venues worldwide. Now it is gracing the newly renovated Hudson Opera House built in 1855, renamed Hudson Hall in upstate New York.

The simple, often melodic piece, embodying folk music and Protestant hymns as paeans to composer Thomson’s rural Missouri childhood, is a tribute to Susan B. Anthony who pioneered the American suffrage movement along with Elizabeth Cady Stanton.

Susan B. Anthony lectured at the Hudson Opera House in 1860 and 1898 as she stomped her way across America. Although she was a staunch abolitionist, she still eschewed tying the vote to full manumission for African Americans. Anthony believed in freedom from slavery, but not the right to vote. This is referenced in the opera in a rather oblique Steinesque approach, but still the point comes across. New York State celebrates the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote, and it is a tribute to mount this ambitious production.

The entirety of Hudson Hall is given over to the work. Campaign signs abound, the downstairs gallery space honors the work and the times, and there are many conversations and lectures scheduled to enhance eager audiences. This is a very exciting addition to the ever more artsy town of Hudson.

The production is directed and conceived by the young, much lauded and obviously not reticent to praise himself, director R. B. Schlather. Schlather is a Hudson resident, and he has culled and unearthed a trove of talent along the shores of the Hudson. The cast, crew, and musicianship in this work are top notch, which for this viewer made the over-active, nearly frantic direction and costuming seem like a distraction rather than an adornment for this jewel-like work.

Schlather utilizes the entire second floor including the half floor galleries and the proscenium stage, as well as, platforms within the thrust set up. The cast parades, wanders, marches forward and backward, as they sing the glorious music. Often the overly active motion obscures the melody and certainly the words. True, it is not a linear work, but words and music are meant to be heard and savored.

In an unusual turn, the program generously credits everyone including the carpet layer and the pop-up canteen, however, it leaves the Composer and Librettist off the list. Listed is the director, who credits himself as “brunch chef” and many great collaborators, from video to wardrobe, hair, and make-up.

Also in the program, Schlather admonishes the audience to experience theater where “There are no borders. We are free. Get up, move around, slow down, go get a snack, come back, create your own experience.” This was one of the busiest audiences I have ever seen. They took the exaltation to heart and marched freely in and out, between performers and back to their seats, stood up in the aisles or sat on the floor.

I am not uninitiated to immersive theater, environmental productions, or major international works where the audience is folded fully into the evening. I have been a longtime producer and audience member for this beloved genre. However, “The Mother Of Us All” I believe, is not one of those works.

This production has a vast and diverse cast of nearly 40, all of whom live or are associated with the Hudson Valley. This is remarkable and marvelous. Many must be singled out, including the extraordinary Michaela Martens, recently in the Metropolitan Opera’s production of “The Death of Klinghoffer,” who sings a full-throated Susan B. Anthony, Nancy Allen Lundy as Gertrude Stein, Teresa Buchholz as Anne (a constant companion and supporter of Susan B.) Dominic Armstrong, as Jo the Loiterer, whose diction and clarity were a gift, and the ever-alluring Robert Osborne as Daniel Webster. These all dazzle and fill the hall with glory.

Stay tuned when new executive director Tambra Dillon, recently of Bard and BAM takes over fully in January. Then I think we will see more productions that strive, in her words to “envelop and embrace our goal of bringing our city’s town hall back to life as a gathering place reflective of its unique and vibrant community.”

“The Mother Of Us All” runs through November 19 at Hudson Hall, 327 Warren Street Hudson, New York 12534
For information or tickets, call 518-822-1438 or visit http://www.hudsonhall.org

JUNK at Lincoln Center

EDGE MEDIA
Entertainment » Theatre
JUNK
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Monday Nov 13, 2017

JUNK

JUNK

  (Source:blouinartinfo.com)

 

The world has become an America-first place, a “me, me, me and the rest of the world be damned” kinda place, run by the orange egotist-in-chief. And so Lincoln Center’s “JUNK” is a natural place to begin the tale of an American downfall.

I loved this show. It was a delight to see a work that wrapped together with my disparate workplace understandings. Solipsistic yes, but I have worked both in theater and on Wall Street. Weird, I know, but this isn’t my story. Although in a way “JUNK” is an intensely personal story for all of us living in the modern day muddle, which is 21st Century capitalist America.

The year in 1985 and the locales are LA, NYC and Allegheny Pa. The characters are over two dozen, ranging from stockbrokers to money managers, brokers, a journalist, captains of industry, lawyers, coal miners, spouses, girlfriends, and waiters. The large cast plays them all flawlessly with a special mention to Ito Aghayere, who plays a journalist of squishy morals, Matthew Rauch as Izzy Peterman, and a favorite of mine Joey Slotnich playing Boris Pronsky.

This is the world that many of us remember as the fertile ground for the birth of junk bonds. “JUNK” is a complex selling of parts of parts, leaving the whole in shambles because the financial value of the parts exceeds the valuation of the whole. That is unless one ascribes value to things like longevity, goodwill, employees, and rectitude.

The main character in the actual Greek drama of junk bonds was a man named Michael Milken, who wore a notoriously bad toupee, bilked millions out of colleagues and small clients alike and negotiated a prison sentence that allowed him to retain control over his millions. This Milken character is hilariously called Bob Merkin. For those of you who are not Shakespearean nerds, a merkin is a pubic wig. Hysterical. So a man who famously wore a bad wig is now in a drama about him, where his character is named after a long-forgotten wig worn on, in modern parlance, your junk.

You can revel in this play even if you don’t speak finance, Shakespeare or economics. This is the short of it. And no I don’t mean selling short because that is covered too, as are options, the nascence of the housing debacle, IPO’s, insider trading, whales, racism, sexism, and coercive language. If you have been an eager observer of the collapse of the housing market, the deregulation of the banks, the enormous disparity in wealth between the coal miners in Alleghany and the uber-rich, then this is a theatrical goldmine. But if you don’t like smart, edgy writing done by a master, then Ayad Akhtar’s play is not for you. However, you’ll be missing a hundred fifty minutes of non-stop intrigue, roguery, and just downright marvelous theater.

The thrust stage at the Vivian Beaumont has a set that is a huge grid onto which an enormous stock market crawl can be projected or bedrooms, restaurants and G Men can emerge to move the play seamlessly along. This setting designed by John Lee Beatty is a perfect foil for projections by 59 Productions, and original music by Mark Bennett and Ben Stanton’s evocative lighting.

Doug Hughes is a director with a glorious touch. The work moves, it provokes, and it enlightens all at a break-neck pace. This mirrors the speed of deals concocted and catapulted through the machinations of the lead, the Milken character, played by Steven Pasquale. Sadly, although I am a huge Pasquale fan, I feel he is too soft, too thoughtful, and too reflective to embody the ruthless men. Yes, it was nearly all men, I witnessed on Wall Street. These were mere manchildren getting sexual favors under desks, snorting coke in the men’s room and the boardroom, driving Ferraris that were purchased from a single month’s pay, and crashing these Italian beauties on drunken nights, only to replace them in another color the following month. I saw this.

Any of the depictions in films like “Wall Street” or the new blockbuster television drama, “Billions” are not understated. It was insane. The pace and the money moving was beyond heady, and I was an only a low-level broker opening same-sex couples in accounts that were questioned by the compliance officer as “impossible.” Even investments in mutual funds saw amounts double and triple at lightning speed. And just as quickly the plug was pulled, and all the value drained out leaving people penniless. It was a huge manipulation with the strings pulled by the likes of Milken, and Ivan Boesky — and these are just the two who did a modest amount of jail time.

“JUNK” shows the start of wild market manipulation and the alchemical creation of wealth from imaginings. The character Merkin is one among many who have reshaped the world to a nearly unrecognizable kingdom of the rich wallowing in troughs of capital while the bulk of humanity subsists on the same wages from decades ago and the sense that the world doesn’t care.

Or maybe it does.

“JUNK” runs through January 7, 2018, at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater, 150 West 65th Street. For tickets or information, call 877-970-6893 or visit http://www.newyorkcitytheatre.com/theaters/vivianbeaumonttheater/tickets

Illyria, What country Friends is this?

THE EDGE
Entertainment » Theatre
Illyria
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Oct 31, 2017

John Magaro and Fran Kranz  John Magaro and Fran Kranz   

 

“Illyria” and directed and written by the seminal American playwright, Richard Nelson, tells the story of the nascence of the now-acclaimed Public Theater.

Nelson writes tales that transform and illuminate families in every ensemble he puts on stage. The Public has nurtured and mounted both “The Apple Family” plays and “The Gabriel” plays. These extended groupings gave Nelson a chance to work over time, to tell quintessentially American stories with groups of actors who morphed into theatrical families. This time he has turned his attentions to the founding of The Public Theater.

I fervently recall all the iterations of the Public theater from the little mobile stage, which was driven by my then boyfriend around the City, to the move, 50 years ago, to the glorious Astor Place site as an endowed gift from the City. In the early days it was called Joe Papp’s Public Theater, so it will come as no surprise to audiences that in the spring and summer of 1958 Papp’s prodigious ego was already in full view. He was a visionary who knew what he wanted and bucked the mighty to achieve it. This marvelous naturalistic work is perfectly cast and situated at the Public.

By this point in his life and career Papp was working as a stage manager for CBS, he was married to actress Peggy Papp and they had a daughter with the Shakespearean name of Miranda. Papp was already friends with and in a close working relationship to Stuart Vaughan, the talented John Sanders, who directed the first plays at the Public and then went on to be artistic director of the Phoenix Theater, a bone of contention between the two men. Also in the Papp orbit are Bernie Gersten, stage manager turned producer, Merle Debusky, a press agent, David Amram a composer, and Colleen Dewhurst, played wonderfully by Rosie Benton.

John Magaro really embodies Joe Papp and delivers beyond imagining. He has the gestures; the mercurial quick mood changes from saccharine to cutting, and the political chutzpa to take on the likes of Robert Moses. Moses had achieved a czar like eminence and was in the process of attempting to slice up the City further by inserting overhead highways bisecting Washington Square Park.

Entire neighborhoods, including Carnegie Hall, were slated for demolition. Much of the west side was razed to build Lincoln Center, dubbed the “Palace of Art.” Moses’ heavy hand is what is credited with dealing a death-blow to the fragile South Bronx as a huge highway cut the neighborhood in half. Papp, as well as visionary Jane Jacobs, vociferously opposed Moses and helped save much of what we prize as New York City. In the midst of the gentrification of the arts Papp and his coterie remained committed to free Shakespeare productions in Central Park and decades later this is still thriving.

The play unfolds in the thrust stage of the intimate Anspacher Theater on the second floor of the Public complex. The set, well conceived and designed by Susan Hilferty and Jason Ardizzone-West features a jumble of wooden furniture, coffee pot, tables and chairs which are reconfigured for each of the three scenes, which with little perceivable break mark the different moments.

A rehearsal room, a dinner party at Ms. Dewhurst’s and finally Central Park after the summer’s final show all unite to allow us in one hour and forty minutes to see the building blocks of the institution that brought us “Hair,” “A Chorus Line,” and “Hamilton,” among many.

The work fascinates as it also provides a window into a time of political foment where artists were still being summoned to the McCarthy tribunal and many in City government and beyond were bowing down to a kind of political cronyism and fear mongering the likes of which we are again being buffeted by.

The cast delights as it works seamlessly. Leading the pack are Debusky played by Fran Kranz, Emma Duncan playing Joe’s assistant with a wonderful understated steel spine (her character Gladys is also married to Papp nemesis Stuart Vaughan), and Kristen Connolly as Papp’s wife. The cohesiveness may emanate from the fact that in this premier version of the work, author Nelson, also directs, imbuing the play with an even greater intimacy.

According the author’s program notes Illyria is the country where Viola in “Twelfth Night” finds herself shipwrecked. Nelson unearthed a letter written by Papp to an actor who had been in his version of “Twelfth Night” where he wrote, “Illyria is a mythical country where strange and wonderful things happen…”

Yes, and so it is for theater as well. I, for one, hope that Nelson and the Public will continue this person history chronicle well into The Public’s magical history.

“Illyria” runs through December 10 at the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place. For information or tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit http://www.publictheater.org/Ticketing-Info