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Oslo For these TImes


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

Tony-Nominated Shows

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



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–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


The Lion ROARS: what a great piece of theater.

The Lion
by Wickham Boyle
Wednesday Feb 11, 2015

Ben Scheuer (
A 5 p.m. matinee on a snowy Saturday seemed like a punishment, when all I wanted was tea and comfort, but two minutes into Ben Scheuer’s “The Lion” at the Culture Project, was the only place I could imagine being. What a joy, a wild unexpected ride and a heart-opening experience.

Benjamin Scheuer is tall and fit and so handsome with a shock of messy brown hair and fingers so fast on any of the seven guitars arrayed on stage that for the music and the visage alone you may be willing to surrender to his one-man show. His voice is never perfect, but so alluring, and even better than perfection is the story he has to tell. Scheuer is sharing with us, ever so generously, the tale of his coming to manhood. And we all know that voyage is full of trips, cracking voices, explosions, challenges, sadness and joys, but his is a gripping one.

Scheuer had a stern mathematician father who also harbored a desire and talent for music. He taught young Ben to play on a banjo constructed out of a pie pan with rubber bands and Ben and his dad played music on and off with his two younger brothers. The three boys comprised the lion pack inside the family’s pride. Scheuer’s father was mercurial, one day sweet and funny the next screaming and abusive. Ben caught his full wrath in the weeks leading up to his 14th birthday and then tragically his father died before there could be a denouement.

His British mother took young Ben and the other lion cubs back to England for boarding school and more strictness. Finally Ben headed back to America to be an erstwhile musician; along the way he falls in love, plays hard rock, falls ill and recovers. Well, we knew he would get better otherwise someone else would be telling the story, but knowing he ascends doesn’t in any way diminish this glorious, uplifting piece.

The stories are heartfelt and never maudlin, the music is sweet, or tangy or sad and sings and twangs to tug on our heartstrings. The piece moves with the well-paced direction of Sean Daniels and combines so seamlessly that at the end the tired, cold audience rose to its feet cheering.

The Lynn Redgrave Theater, one of the many spaces at Culture Project, is a clean theater, one that seems to accommodate many different kinds of work at varying levels of wonder and resonance. But the technical elements, the design, the sound, the lights are always so well wrought. In this instance the spare but alluring set design was by Neil Patel, light by Ben Stanton and sound, which worked so well by Leon Rosenberg. This is a great winter interlude.

“The Lion” runs through March 29 at The Culture Project, 45 Bleecker Street in New York City. For information or tickets, call 866-811-4111 or visit

Penny Arcade Longing Lasts Longer at St Ann’s Warehouse

Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Wednesday Dec 7, 2016

Penny Arcade is a proud 66-year-old wunderkind who rocks the house, vibrates the walls and reduces audiences to tears and raucous giggles and cheers at St. Ann’s Warehouse until December 11 with her new show, Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer.” Everyone — boomers, millennials, tweeners, tweeters, and if we could, our cats and dogs and parents — should run, limp, uber, bike or subway to see this show.

It is a mélange of a true prayer meeting, a barnstorming, a testimonial on living young for five decades and never conforming, but always observing life with a gimlet eye. Penny Arcade is a performer with whom many of us grew up. Often she was a first in the genre of “performance art.” And she never disappointed, but now she is at the top of her game and basking in Justin Townsend’s lights, which when they turn magenta just tickle her.

Arcade, whose real name is Susana Ventura, grew up in a traditional Italian immigrant family, left school when she was 13 and came to live on NYC’s Lower East Side. She performed with Wavy Gravy, was a superstar in Andy Warhol’s Factory and acted in many productions at John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous before launching into her long, lauded, solo performance career.

What is refreshing and compelling about Arcade’s work is her honesty and facility with language, academic concepts, (although she is an autodidact), and her ability to thread cultural observations across the decades seamlessly and lay them at our astounded feet. She begins the show in the gleaming St Ann’s Warehouse space by roaming the audience greeting old friends, doing a bit of chit-chat here and there.

She told the audiences one night that sitting with Marina Abramovic was like sitting with a dog who had been hit by a car, and yet everyone kept saying she was so brave. No one speaks more truth to power than Penny Arcade. And whether you agree with her take on modern art, the suburbanization of our beloved New York City, the solipsism of our youth or the way technology is absorbing our lives, you do not want her to stop coming at you with the force of a hurricane.

Arcade has been collaborating with Steve Zehentner for 25 years. He is on stage with her, albeit to the side, working the sound and collaborating on the direction. Arcade on occasion stops when she gets lost in her patter and asks Steve, where she is going. They banter, he restarts the music and Arcade fiercely forges forward. There is a never a moment when you feel she is anything but genuine, and firmly rooted in the moment. And so as the audience you go with her on her every tangent, gambol, and cultural perambulation.

Arcade says that some people say she is angry, but I identified the emotions as a righteous, yes longing, for what is and was good and amazing. She takes nearly everyone to task: the tourist zombies eating their way across New York bumping into the locals because they have not been inculcated into the art of “the dip” as a way of artful avoidance of collision on the streets and sidewalks; the curse of the Princess Plague, those women tottering along on sky-high heels, arms linked because they have seen “Sex in the City”; and the SUV-sized baby carriages toting giant children through life.

Arcade is never looking to be politically correct; she is looking to be genuine and honest. “I was queer before there was a queer theory. Now we are obsessed with getting pronouns correct. This is another way of distracting us from the loss of democracy.” Arcade’s preferred pronoun, by the way, is “your majesty.” You laugh, and you think. As Arcade says, “Thinking is tough, that’s why so few people do it.”

The show skewers what Arcade calls “The Tyranny of Fragility,” continuing, “There are generations of kids who have never been slapped. Nothing takes the zing out of feeling like a genius than getting slapped.” Yes tough love, but it is certainly what many of us have thought in secret parental or teacher, or avuncular hearts.

The show is seventy-five minutes of non-stop great cogitation, amazing music, a little dancing here and there, and a room crammed with intense feeling. One can feel the wheels turning as we all conjure memories, love, lust and ire, but as Arcade advises, never nostalgia. Only longing, because longing lasts longer and we all want the glow from this show to linger.

Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer” runs through
December 11 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street in Brooklyn NY. For tickets or information, call 718-254-8779 or visit

Peter Brook Returns to BAM with ” Battlefield”


by Wickham Boyle
Friday Sep 30, 2016


Thirty years later, Peter Brook retakes the stage created for him at the BAM Harvey Theater with “Battlefield,” a pared-down, much older writer’s take on the aftermath of the great saga and battle illuminated in the “Mahabharata.”

I first encountered Brook’s work in 1971 when I sat spellbound in the BAM opera house watching his “Midsummer Night’s Dream.” From there I endeavored to see all I could from his Bouffe Du Nord theater in Paris, to the Aix-en-Provence Festival, to LaMama. I sat transfixed through the nine hours of Brook’s original “Mahabharata” in 1987 and came back for more.

The original work, based on the epic poem, runs over 200,00 lines of poetry and featured a company of nearly 60 actors. There was music, elaborate costumes, and breaks for sustenance for the intrepid audience.

“Battlefield” is a story told on a bare stage, after all it is the final story in the saga where nearly everyone has been killed and laments a world littered with corpses. Four actors –Carole Karemera, Jared McNeil, Ery Nzaramba and Sean O’Callaghan – inhabit the many characters who tell the tale and fables within stories. Each is remarkable, mutable, reverent and wonderful to regard.

The characters are transformed via accents, affects, and a few errant pieces of cloth. These minimal costume pieces by Oria Puppo allow quick changes and echo the sparse world we witness. Everpresent on the edge is the extraordinary percussionist, Toshi Tsuchitori, who created the music for the original “Mahabharata” and continues to propel this final version forward.

This iteration focuses on Prince Yudishtira and he wrestles with how to live in a world that he has been instrumental in obliterating. This is a battle where even victory is dry dust as both kings have lost all of their families and loved one. They try constantly to unravel the notions of culpability and an afterlife where rebirth is possible. The language in this epic can be astonishingly beautiful. The various tales are evocative of Aesop’s fables, the Bible, and parables like those in the Koran, but all spun together with a distinctly Indian twist.

The play, at less than 90 minutes, is a slow-marching mediation asking the audience to question their own mortality and the choices we have made as a modern society with a constantly war torn world swirling at our well-fed feet. It is a world where” justice is blind and sorrow destroys wisdom.”

The audience at BAM is graying, like your scribe, and so it is a group often contemplating our legacy and the plight of the world we have either helped sink or shape, or perhaps turned our backs on. I spoke with Brook as I left, and I saw a spark still in those crystal-blue eyes, but this work is the effort of a man who at 91 still wants us to see the glory of the “Mahabharata,” a book Brook says is “an immense canvas covering all the aspects of human existence.”

“Battlefield” runs through Oct. 9 at BAM Harvey Theater, 651 Fulton Street in Brooklyn. For tickets or information, visit

Men On Boats: All Woman Cast

Men On Boats
by Wickham Boyle
Saturday Aug 13, 2016

Perhaps the wild fire success of “Hamilton” has opened a niche for theater pieces that are historical, irreverent and so non-traditionally cast that they shake us wonderfully. Such is “Men on Boats” originally produced by Clubbed Thumb, a company which since 1996 has presented and commissioned over 100 ground breaking, new works.

“Men on Boats” written with wit and wisdom by Jaclyn Backhaus, features a fearless, fierce all woman cast. Let’s start there. There is wonderful audacity to feature men in the title and yet a swirl of women embodying the explorers who ventured down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in 1869 on the first trip taken by white explorers, and helmed by one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell.

Ten men in four boats embarked on a journey that covered and mapped almost 1,000 miles through uncharted canyons. This changed the west forever. Three months later, only five of the original company plus Powell would emerge from the depths of the Grand Canyon. “Men on Boats’ takes us, in 140 minutes, through every harrowing, often hilarious step of the trip.

The scene is set by huge black and white photomontages of the canyons, cliffs and waterways. The glorious cast holds up only the prows of the boats and yet the fervor, the danger, the heroic saves and swirling eddies is all completely vital. This is of course a concatenation of scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, beautiful costumes by Asta Bennie Hostetter, and sound design that wraps the audience in crashing waves and splintering boats, wrought by Jane Shaw.

The cast is stunning. Kelly McAndrew as Powell leads the pack with a dry wit, cool delivery equally capable of sharing geological facts or short quips. Her lead clues us in to the fact through the writing and the spot on direction by Will Davis, we will constantly be flipping from modern jargon, to late 19th century patter and the jokes and wisdom will be packed in between as tightly as the flour, bacon, whiskey and scientific instruments were stowed on the small vessels that plummeted down the canyon.

There is at times a cartoonish take as Powell and Kristen Sieh, who plays Dunn, a founding member of the theater company and often a cohort to Powell ruminates about what names to give cliffs and inlets, mountains and rivers. There is a nod to the fact that most of this glorious landscape had been named and traversed for eons by native people, but none-the-less, white men do what they must.

The cast features a range of voices, sizes and colors as the women portray crew members like Sumner, (Donnetta Lavinia Grays) who is strait laced and a constant stoic until faced with a rattlesnake when (s)he becomes a whimpering high pitched shrieker who is saved by the cook’s coffee pot.

Birgit Huppuch portrays Goodman, the youngest, smallest boatman. Goodman brings a humor and pluck to every scene and even heroically saves Powell who is stranded on a cliff. In this work, Goodman takes off his trousers and tosses a leg to Powell to haul him over. Emblematic of the play, when the rest of the crew arrives, Goodman and Powell are hugging in gratitude with pants tossed to the side. It is this ability to portray history while not bogging down in it, that makes evening so magical and important.

The rest of the cast, each inspired, includes Elizabeth Kenny as Old Shady, Powell’s brother and a humors character who can assume the shape of a shady tree. Layla Khoshnoudi, Danaya Esperanza, Danielle Davenport, Hannah Cabell, and Jocelyn Bioh round out the crew.

I had the great, and terrifying honor of rafting down the Colorado for only a week and this play brings back the glorious grandeur of the physical surroundings, the amazement of rapids and water falls traversed, and how lucky we all are to have tales to tell that are as magical as “Men on Boats.”

“Men on Boats” runs through August 14 at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42 Street in NYC. For information or tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit