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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

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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

Tiny Beautiful Things

Tiny Beautiful Things

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Oct 13, 2017

 

Tiny Beautiful Things

The “Dear Sugar” advice column was nearly a totemic tool for many people searching in a landscape of hopelessness, fear and confusion. Writer Cheryl Strayed assumed the mantle of columnist Sugar when the original Sugar, a man, retired. The results of her column are legendary and were curated and collected to become a New York Times best-selling book, entitled “Tiny Beautiful Things.”

Strayed’s book was adapted for the stage by Nia Vardalos, who is a much-lauded actor who embodies Sugar in the production. This same production was heralded when it ran last season in a smaller Public Theater venue. Now it is back in the beautiful Newman space where more people can guffaw and weep or sigh and nod in agreement.

The work was co-conceived by Marshall Heyman and director Thomas Kail (of “Hamilton” fame) along with Vardalos. This production features a wonderful sprawling set, wrought by Rachel Hauck. It’s emblematic of a messy family home executed with an attention to detail that extends to kid’s drawings on the fridge, and pantries filled with snacks and liquor that the cast freely dips into. There is laundry strewn and folded, tables neatened and all as the marvelous cast Teddy Cañez, Hubert Point-Du Jour, Natalie Woolams-Torres and of course Vardalos as Sugar, interact in an almost balletic manner. They alternate reading actual letters, answering as a Greek chorus or listening intently as Sugar spins her answers.

Thousands of people wrote letters to Dear Sugar and her answers were sometimes brutal, often humorous, insightful and downright honestly brilliant. Sugar allowed her readers to witness heartbreak or the loss of a loved one. They wrote of boredom in marriages, anger at abusive parents, confusion with gender or rage at race, and all the while she imbued her answers with a sagacity that came not from a study of physiology, but rather from being a student of hard knocks, often at her own hand.

She references her abandoned childhood, her sexual abuse as a toddler at the hands of her grandfather and her divorce, drug addiction and digging out of all that life could throw at a person. But she continued to shine and evolve. And she shares it with her readers, and now with the audience. It is gobsmacking.

The columns and hence the play weave stories of theft and loneliness, of desire or ennui, mistrust and endless longing. Perhaps the most informed opinion on this work can be gleaned from the program note written by Oskar Eustis, the Artistic Director of the Public Theater. “Cheryl’s advise is as big as her heart: she does something brilliantly counterintuitive, using self revealing stories of her life for completely generous purposes.”

“Tiny Beautiful Things” runs through December 10 at The Public’s Newman Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. For information or tickets, call 212-967-7555 or visit www.publictheater.org 

YANA and Encore a First Date

Encore.org

YANA and Encore, Witnessing a First Night Alliance
10/26/2017 • By Wickham Boyle
The older we get, if we are lucky and open-hearted, the more we seem to orbit in a panoply of worlds. Our many careers, our families, friends, kids and their friends, art classes, book clubs, garden nerds, current work, politics, neighborhoods, where we volunteer. They all make little Venn diagrams, like the ones we used in school to describe overlapping theories or principles.

I am particularly fascinated by the places where my worlds overlap. I love edges, confluences and the dark spaces in between, so last night was very exciting for me. Encore.org and Yale Alumni Nonprofit Alliance (YANA)hosted an evening at the offices of Atlantic Philanthropies in lower Manhattan. I have feet in both organizations and am very proud to be a passionate, active participant in each. I was an Encore 2015 Purpose Prize Fellow for my work in founding and running a passion project called Just Shea, which helped empower and protect women shea harvesters in Ghana. And for a little less time I have been a member of YANA, working with a diverse group of alums from many Yale schools and colleges who come together through an evinced interest in the non-profit sector.

YANA and Encore are a perfect match, coming together to augment each other’s mission and enhance outreach. The evening was an easy meet and greet. Mediterranean snacks, some lovely wine, the rain abating outside and a crowd of about 35 folks gathering to hear more about how these two organizations can provide opportunities to have a greater social impact in our communities.

After imbibing and some chatter, the door slid open to the conference room and Janet Shaw, New York Program Director for Encore Fellowships welcomed guests and panelists. There were four wise women seated at the table ready to tell stories, answer questions and hopefully inspire more good works across sectors.

After I unpacked my interest in these two organizations, which I saw as so integrally connected, Janet Shaw illuminated her personal story from three decades in pharma communications to jettisoning that for her encore career helping great non-profits find Encore Fellows from successful careers in the corporate sector. The paths people take, the twists and turns, all are so unexpected and the results are stunning.

The two other women at the table were Adele Brown, a current Encore Fellow in her early sixties who had been a private investigator among many careers. She was matched with Youth Inc. where she was supervised by her new younger colleague Katrina Huffman, also on the panel. In the midst of Brown’s fellowship, Huffman left to helm Change for Kids, where she has already brought on another Encore Fellow.

What we heard over and over was the joy and cooperative spirit that exists in these non-profit organizations. Janet said when she began at Encore she had to do a mind shift away from, “who are our competitors” to “how can we collaborate.” “I spent thirty years worrying about competitors,” she explained. So that was entirely new.

Katrina began her piece from a very personal place, revealing a passion for young people that emanated from her background growing up up in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, where she never realized she was poor until arriving at college. Her church was a buffer to that poverty, providing so many amenities that might have been missed. She went to Broadway shows, summer camp and was surrounded by a fellowship of folks who cared. Her attraction to Change for Kids is that it provides many of the missing pieces that aren’t happening in today’s schools. Katrina provided detailed and wholehearted kudos for Encore Fellowships and the general idea of experienced talent. Katrina is an advocate and a wonderful spokesperson. In both instances she hired fellows to do marketing which she said ‘isn’t her thing’ and in both cases, her fellows delivered.

Katrina and Janet had a spirited back and forth extolling why the fellows program is as important for organizations as it is for for the fellows. These are the kinds of programs that make Encore.org so valuable.

Between Katrina, Janet and Adele, a list emerged of what makes Encore Fellows unique and how both fellow and nonprofit leader can set themselves up for success. To paraphrase:

A fellow is a great way to fill a gap (As Katrina put it, “someone who understands what I don’t know…and I don’t know marketing!)
A fellow is a thought partner who can “go to meetings with me, or for me.”
A fellow has emotional maturity and can manage her own time.
To set up for success with a fellow, nonprofit hosts need to properly integrate and onboard the fellow and onboard (including enough history so that the fellow isn’t offering up ‘last year’s big idea’ to a junior staffer too polite to point it out.)
Nonprofits should understand that this isn’t just a consulting gig, it’s a matter of heart and head.
Fellows need humility to do this job and t take the time to understand the culture of their host. Even for fellows with impressive backgrounds, they are joining a team of specialists and experts.
A great fellow needs to a realist, flexible, and above-all passionate.
Sometimes as a fellow it’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Nonprofits are often filled with young people, so fellows often bring an intergenerational element to an organization and serve as a peer for a founder or ED. But that doesn’t mean the learning goes only one way. Fellows learn every day from their junior colleagues.
At the end of the evening there was a consensus that this was an important alliance. The YANA program brings a host of talented, brilliant new people into the encore circle and I hope to see new programs developed, funds raised and consciousness expanded on both sides. I think I see many more YANA/Encore partnerships going forward.

YANA and Encore, Witnessing a First Night Alliance

Oslo For these TImes

Oslo

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday May 19, 2017
Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays.

Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays.  

The sages remind us often of George Santayana’s wisdom when he wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Often the word ‘past’ is replaced with ‘history,’ reminding us that knowing and studying the past is a mighty tool.

It seems we are roiling right now in an era where history, the rule of law, and compromise are tossed and trashed. So it is comforting, to some small degree, that through J.T. Rogers’ excellent play “Oslo” we witness, in vibrant detail, the midwifery and birth of the unlikely 1993 Oslo Peace Accords between the Palestinians and the Israelis.

The playwright informs us in a note, that the play’s genesis came from drinks after a viewing of his play “Blood and Gifts.” Rogers sat down with a Norwegian diplomat, whose tongue I imagine was loosened by many rounds of drinks. Here at a local bar, light was shed on an unusual diplomatic saga, one that culminated in the famous photograph of Prime Minister Rabin and Chairman Arafat shaking hands with Bill Clinton beaming in between them in the rose garden. Playwright Rogers took this information and ran with it.

“Oslo” lays bare in exquisite detail and often unexpected humor, the gut-wrenching details of the endless negotiating, dining, copious drinking, and eventual camaraderie that predated and thus created the historic signing.

“Oslo” was wisely moved upstairs to the capacious Vivian Beaumont Theater with its thrust-stage jutting into the house and seats that provide a bird’s eye view for every ticket holder, albeit ones a bit tight on space.

For this production, the open set with an upstage scrim used ingeniously to project images from the brutal Arab/Isreali conflict, all add to the understanding of the times. The set design is by the very talented Michael Yeargan. It utilizes traps that open and shut, whisking furniture out of site to provide scene changes. And although there is very little décor, every piece is precise and contributes to the sense of a Norwegian diplomat’s home, or a dark forest, or a negotiating space.

It is upon is a mutable canvas that the story unfolds. Bartlett Sher’s most deft direction takes what could be a confusing morass of facts, figures, and characters and lays them bare at our feet where they entertain and enlighten.

The key to this is the extraordinary undertaking is the ineffable Jennifer Ehle, who plays Mona Juul, an official in the Norwegian foreign ministry. Mona often comes downstage and shares with us the essence of characters, and how they fit into this complicated jigsaw puzzle.

She is married to Terje Rod-Larsen, played with a wonderful rectitude capable of melting into giddy humor by the always-talented Jefferson Mays. Larsen runs a foundation for applied social sciences and the married couple’s partnership, and ability to plot and deal in back channels is what precipitates the final accord.

The initial four at the negotiating table and dining table are Abu Ala, an incredible Anthony Azizi, and his truculent partner Hassan Asfour, the actor Dariush Kashani who brings a gut-wrenching gusto and Marxist energy to the role. The Israelis are Yair Hirschfeld, an economics professor at the University of Haifa, played with a wonderful rumpled intellect and humor by Daniel Oreskes; and his junior colleague Ron Pundak, brought to life by Daniel Jenkins.

These four are simultaneously attempting to reach a written accord and also testing Larsen’s theory on the idea of “gradualism” as a tool to reach an agreement. At the initial meetings, it is stressed that when the four men leave the negotiation table, and they are in there alone with no mediator, they emerge into the salon and everyone, including the inspired chef, Toril who radiates and is played by Henny Russell, must call each other by first names. There are to be lots of storytelling, massive consumption of alcohol and piles of waffles, herring, salmon, but never roast pork. The gaggle becomes close, even though there is a multitude of issues upon which they disagree.

These meetings continue in secret, as the group is especially wary of the meddling Americans, who we are reminded always seem to grab control and tend to muck things up. Ahh, yes. So the negotiations rumble forward and we are reminded that in life, in war, in politics, “Sometimes we are the pigeon, sometimes the statue.”

At the next stage of negotiation, the Israelis send a formal government official and things start to ramp up. Uri Savir was a director-general of the foreign ministry, and as played by Michael Aronov, he is a blast of humor, energy, and explosions when he bounds on stage. There are jokes and impressions of Arafat and Peres, and the agreement lurches and careens until we are shown the final moments when it was signed.

The large cast assumes multiple roles, including hapless German tourists who blunder into the villa where talks are being held, security men, assorted diplomats and even Shimon Peres. The switching of roles is as seamless as the furniture gliding and disappearing.

This is a history play. And like Shakespeare’s plays in that genre, this play requires copious work on the part of the audience. It is nearly three hours long, it is dense with fact and fast moving action as well as moments when it slows to a crawl and we await the next scene.

“Oslo” is a work peppered with humor and constant gobsmacking acting. In times when so much of what we sift through our sieve of social media is pablum, it is crucial that we remember the lessons of history and hard work that created actual if fleeting strides.

“Oslo” runs through July 2 at The Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 West 65 Street in New York City. For information or tickets, cal 212-239-6300 or visit www.lct.org/shows/oslo-broadway

Tony-Nominated Shows

This story is part of our special report titled “Tony-Nominated Shows.” Want to read more? Here’s the full list.

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Politics Abounds, Threatens to Swamp Art

Julius Caesar

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Jun 13, 2017

Julius Caesar

It is a rite of passage to be privileged to attend Free Shakespeare in Central Park through the auspices of the Public Theater. For decades more than 5 million audience members sat under the stars and marveled at Shakespeare.

This season the offerings are “Julius Caesar” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” These two plays couldn’t be further apart in spirit, and after the political walloping we have been facing as a country, and this is evinced in the very modern, Trumpian Julius Caesar gracing the Delacorte stage, we will need the light lift brought by “Midsummer.”

The current “Julius Caesar,” is a fast-paced, uber-modern version wrought by the Public’s artistic director, Oscar Eustis. It features a diverse cast and non-gender specific casting that continues to blow the walls out of any other producer’s idea of what these concepts might be. Bravo Public.

The physical presentation also brings the audience into modern time, as there are placards and posters plastered on the walls of the set by David Rockwell. Before the show begins, the audience is welcome to sign large petitions whose headings read: I Mourn For and I Hope For.

As the play begins, the petitions are ripped off and Caesar enters as Donald Trump, blond hair blazing and a tie well below his belt. At his heels is the faithful wife, Melania, oops, I mean Calpurnia. She is dressed in an outfit seemingly plucked, by costume designer Paul Tazewell, from Ivanka Trump’s spring collection. These costume choices set the scene, so we are aware that although the language is Shakespeare’s, the political turmoil is as modern as the hearings filling our airwaves.

As Oscar Eustis tells us in his excellent director’s notes, when Caesar was killed on March 15, 44 B.C., democracy vanished and it would be two millennia before it was resurrected by colonists in the new America. “Julius Caesar is about how fragile democracy is. The institutions that we have grown up with, that we have inherited from the struggle of many generations of our ancestors, can be swept away in no time at all,” said Eustis.

So we have Caesar, played with excellent swagger (and in one scene buck-naked) by Gregg Henry, known to many as the villainous senator in TV’s “Scandal.” He is flanked by Tina Benko who does a too-exact imitation of Mrs. Trump.

The senators surrounding Caesar and plotting to overthrow him are Casca, the superlative Teagle F. Bougere, Corey Stoll as a blundering, well-intentioned Brutus, and Marc Antony played by the very Southern-sounding Elizabeth Marvel. There is a bevy of other soldiers, acolytes, and rabble rousers who cheer from the audience and swarm the stage in explosions of gunshots and fog. All of this creates the very real sense of political protests and upheavals that we have witnessed up close, or at the very least, seen nightly, hourly, daily on the news.

Director Eustis states that he began to foment this production the day after Trump was elected president and it is not a stretch to see how the underhanded, double dealings in Shakespeare play are now not metaphors, but as actualities. When we witness and weigh former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony as an attempt to coerce a loyalist into submission, we are watching Julius Caesar.

This is politics, and Shakespeare does it so very well. I did, however, find the constant referencing to modern times, including the insertion of the line by Caesar “I could stand in the midst of Fifth Avenue and shoot people, and I wouldn’t lose any supporters,” as a kind of artistic bludgeoning that proved unnecessary. The Trump stomping and muttering at times as well became a distraction to the excellent, complicated poetry that is the original text.

Yet all said, this is a production that deserves to be heralded and supported because perhaps after two swift hours we can take cold comfort in knowing that we should be vigilant in defending our democracy. If not, it is predestined to fail.

“Julius Caesar” runs through June 18 at the Delacorte Theater, (enter at 81st Street and Central Park West). For information on how to get free tickets, visit https://publictheater.org/Programs–Events/Shakespeare-in-the-Park/Free-Ticket-Distribution-in-the-Park/

Through June 18th

Hudson Valley escape at Summerscape

Bard Summerscape 2017

by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Tuesday Aug 22, 2017

The cast of 'Dimitrij'

The cast of ‘Dimitrij’  

Summer theater and festivals abound. They take place in reconfigured barns, in parks and in small theaters up and down the coast, but only one festival is housed in a miraculous Frank Gehry building nestled in the Hudson Valley’s rolling hills. And that is the Bard Summerscape.

Summerscape in not a light hearted straw-hat kind of festival. No, since its inception in 1990, what began as a pure music festival, conceived by long time Bard president and conductor Leon Botsein, has grown to be a premier multi-arts festival. Summerscape encompasses an often intense music program dedicated to one composer, this year Chopin, as well, an opera, and theater, dance and film offerings. As a topper it offers the crazy, joyful Spiegeltent, returning for its 12th year. Under the bowers of this hand made pavilion revelers dance and dine until the wee hours.

The Gehry building, dubbed the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, houses multiple theaters. Some are best suited for intimate work, while an expansive stage was home to Antonin Dvorak’s “Dimitriji” (1882) directed by the vaunted experimentalist Anne Bogart. The house was packed and there were few deserters to this four plus hour opera sung in Czech, with well designed subtitles.

This opera was touted as “the first fully staged American production of this Dvorak opera”. And there might be good reason. The work is dense, as it depicts 17th century Russian struggles for power, leaving off where the more often seen “Boris Gudunov” by Mussorgsky begins. There are glorious uses of enormous choral passages and some disturbing interactions, which smack as wildly sexist, as the lead tenor Clay Hilley jettisons his wife for a younger model.

Even though the work was well staged and updated to modern times by Bogart’s stellar direction, the echoes to modern political climate could not undo the often sloughing pace and the incredible length when a summer afternoon or evening beckons from the hillsides.

A remarkable work by the Wooster Group called “A Pink Chair (In Place of a Fake Antique),” a world premier, provided an exciting look at the work of maestro Tadeusz Kantor. Kantor was a trail blazing visionary whose work this reviewer had the honor of working on at Lamama Theater. I know Kantor’s work very well and I found this piece with its insertion of video and repletion to shore up key elements in Kantor’s theatricals to be a very moving, short theatrical excursion. This new work disembowels memory and nostalgia and pays perfect homage to Kantor. It is directed by founding Wooster Group member Elizabeth LeCompte.

I was completely beguiled by an all Chopin program in the Sosnoff Theater. The evening was made more interesting by the preconcert talk by Jonathan Bellman a scholar in residence at the University of Northern Colorado. This talk helped place the intricacies of the works and where they fit into the history of music during Chopin’s very short life.

The piano etudes, the Polonaise, the sonata and the mazurka all swirled around the wonderful theater with its perfect acoustics creating an absolutely magical evening. Even a trip to the loo in the Fisher Center sets a visitor in front of the swirling edges of Gehry’s polished metal that undulates and catches late light and never fails to delight.

After, the concert goers were released into the dark, humid air, and a majority trekked the path lit up with colored lights, to enjoy dancing and cocktails at the Spiegeltent.

Bard Summerscape runs through August 20 at Fisher Center, 60 Manor Ave, Annandale-On-Hudson, NY 12504. For information or tickets, call 845-758-7900 or visit www.bard.edu/fishercenter