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Pushkin Downtown in Summer

Entertainment » Theatre
by Wickham Boyle
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Friday Aug 10, 2018

Summer offerings abound and one worthy of a well air-conditioned two hours is the downtown theater company the american vicarious’ world premiere of Jonathan Leaf’s “Pushkin” at the Sheen Center.

“Pushkin” is a verse play that pays homage to Russia’s first superstar author, the poet/Playwright/novelist Alexander Pushkin, the author of “Eugene Onegin” and “Boris Godunov,” the basis for Mussorgsky’s opera. Leaf is a former New York City schoolteacher and journalist who obviously can do deep dive research and cover a subject carefully. He transformed the final years of Pushkin’s life, taking historical fodder and crafting it into a verse play.

Pushkin, who was famously biracial, was exiled by Alexander I and censored by Tsar Nicholas I, even though the ruler was enamored of his verse. The final years of this artist’s life were rife with rumor of his wife’s infidelity with the Tsar, the birth of children, mounting familial expenses, a chronic gambling addiction and the desire to write what he felt politically without losing his life and thus being banished from his children and his wife’s sister, with whom he had a tortured affair.

The play focuses on the tension between his exceptional talent and his flawed society and self. Pushkin struggled to abolish serfdom and yet utilized serfs in his household. He wanted to be a lauded artist and yet had to be censored and strangled by the Tsar whose pronouncements in the first person plural resonate with Trumpian speech – as in, “we are not amused.”

The work is well directed by Christopher McElroen, who is also the artistic director of the american vicarious. The design of the work is amazing. Troy Horie, who self identifies as a scenographer and installation artist, created a simple square set with the audience seated on both sides. There is a red carpet on the floor and at the opening, and an enormous, white square surrounds a sleeping Pushkin, played by the very excellent Ian Lassiter. The square, the frame, then lifts and reveals what we learn are the illuminated drawings Pushkin doodled of gallows. At the play’s culmination, when Pushkin is killed in a duel, more glorious drawings, lit from within are revealed. This moment lasts for far too short a time, as it is visually stunning. And frankly, even though the work is interesting, at two hours it is too long.

Of the actors, Pushkin’s wife Natalya, played with simpering flirtatiousness by Jenny Leona, and her cheating sister Alexandra, played by Lexi Lapp, are excellent. Kyle Cameron as Gogol seems to goad Pushkin into his gambling perhaps as he is a bit jealous of his friend’s prodigious talents. Gene Gillette is perfect as the weak, petulant Tsar.

However, I was diverted by the seemingly never-ending scene changes and prop placements. Tables, carafes, playing cards, dueling pistols, all seemed to be constantly changing positions, and, yes, carefully carried by well costumed serfs thanks to designer Elivia Bovenzi. The scene changes were musically interesting; yet alas, no music was credited in the program. It did provide an interesting interstitial to what could have been unbearable.

If the scene changes were minimized, the play would slim down to a better length. As we have learned from another play that ends badly with a duel and features a man who is enthralled with three sisters, “Hamilton,” much can be done to denote place change without enlisting props and constant scene changing as the audience watches. It maybe unfair to compare “Pushkin” to the rightly exalted “Hamilton,” but recently “Carmen” as CSC Rep created a panoply of place and time with a few ammunition boxes. I feel strongly that this work was diminished by a busy-ness that detracted from the strong story, lilting verse and a cast of well-credited, talented actors.

“Pushkin” runs through August 25 at The Sheen Center for Thought & Culture, 18 Bleecker Street, New York, NY. For more information, visit the Sheen Center website.

JUNK at Lincoln Center

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





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

Illyria, What country Friends is this?

Entertainment » Theatre
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

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 

YANA and Encore a First Date

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. 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 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