In 1967, as Lyndon Johnson’s presidency was crumbling under the weight of Vietnam, a satire called MacBird! began a nearly yearlong run at the Village Gate. In it, Stacy Keach embodied a cartoon Johnson reconfigured as Shakespeare’s bloody thane, haunted by the ghost of his predecessor and bedeviled by the three “witches” of activism spelling his doom: students, blacks, and leftists. Controversial at the time for having its power-mad protagonist kill its Kennedy figure (“Jack O’Dunc”) just as Macbeth killed Duncan, MacBird! now seems astonishing for something else entirely. Was there really a time in our theater, and in our politics, when the two were so vitally engaged with each other? And when Johnson seemed the worst thing that could ever happen to our country?
The Public Theater, kindly giving local Shakespeareans a break from the exhausting parade of King Lears, is offering a “radical edit” of Antony and Cleopatra by the 32-year-old playwright and 2013 MacArthur fellow Tarell Alvin McCraney. Edited or not, Antony and Cleopatra, written around the same year as Lear, poses some of the same difficulties; its story, though brilliant in précis and overflowing with beautiful poetry, plays out like a deliberate exercise in diminishing returns. Some three dozen characters speak, not to mention supernumeraries; the action careens almost drunkenly about the Mediterranean; and what started as an exquisite rarity — a study of passionate love between great equals — winds up as a count-the-corpses Grand Guignol.
New York is about to be awash in art, with the Whitney Biennial going up and the Armory Show coming to town. But New York is always awash in great art (much of it not for sale—imagine that). Here, critic Jerry Saltz has created six walking tours of galleries, museums, and the street, singling out 43 particular pieces he loves. The slideshow can give you only a taste—illustrated or crudely reproduced—so put on good shoes, and take a look at these works for yourself.
Because she likes them, and she can. Dunham will write a four-part story — to be published in 2015 — and "it's incredibly contemporary," according new Archie creative officer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. "It's a classic Archie story, with a definitely unique, Lena spin." Are you ready for naked Archie? Is that even allowed?
These artists will engage with the old Whitney building as they close it down.
The character of Donelle Woolford (fictionally b. 1980; above left) was created by the middle-aged white artist Joe Scanlan and is embodied by the actress Jennifer Kidwell. Wearing man-drag, she’ll reenact a 1977 stand-up routine by Richard Pryor.
Not content to defy credulity, The Last Kiss — an astonishingly vapid 1932 play by the justly forgotten team of Erbmann, Landor, and Marmel — dares to defy mathematics as well. After all, a big fat zero of a script like this should not be divisible by three. And a mere handful of bad actors should not be able to manufacture, as they have in the revival just opened in New Haven, a lifetime’s worth of theatrical disaster.
Or so a reviewer might have responded to the dreadful play-within-a-play that makes up the first act of Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, opening now — in reality — at Playwrights Horizons. Happily, I can report that Stage Kiss itself is a gift and a rarity: a superb new romantic comedy that does justice to both sides of the genre equation. It’s moving, smart, and flat-out hilarious.
In 1982, I was a lowly intern on an ambitious Hal Prince musical called A Doll’s Life. With a book by (of all people) Betty Comden and Adolph Green, it was a very dark look at what might have happened to Ibsen’s Nora Helmer in the months after she infamously slammed the door on her husband and children in A Doll’s House — and what might have happened to womanhood in general in the hundred years since. This line of inquiry presupposed that the play could use updating: that its verities, shocking in 1879, were not quite eternal. I’m not sure that having Nora lead a strike in a herring cannery and then become a noted parfumier made her story more timely (or credible); in any case, despite glorious music by Larry Grossman, A Doll’s Life flopped big-time. Meanwhile, A Doll’s House keeps going, in many years still among the most produced plays in the world.
Biographical plays, when they fail, usually do so in one of two ways. Some, like the recent Becoming Dr. Ruth, are busy travelogues of the subject’s life, narrating the major events as if from a tour bus but skimping on current drama. Others, like End of the Rainbow, featuring Judy Garland at her sad-clown finale, focus a microscope on a moment of crisis that is almost by definition unrepresentative. David Henry Hwang’s Kung Fu, about the martial arts star Bruce Lee, somehow manages to fail both ways: It’s busy and false. Its many crises feel artificially constructed, even if they are biographically accurate, and it never achieves a recognizably human, in-the-moment texture.
Will everyone with ringside tickets kindly rise and proceed to take your places.” A boxing ring, with a burly announcer at its center, is descending from the rafters of the Winter Garden Theatre. “Welcome to tonight’s heavyweight fight! Live from Philadelphia …” The actor is interrupted by raucous cheers and applause—though not for him. It’s ten days until the first preview of Rocky the musical, and a particularly complicated piece of technological razzmatazz has made its debut without a hitch.
The orchestra of the Winter Garden—where the musical based on Sylvester Stallone’s iconic 1976 film will open on March 13—has been transformed into a kind of mission control. Half the seats are covered with tables, each a hub for the various departments—choreography, lighting, costume, set design, and on and on—involved in the tech rehearsals that lead up to previews. At the center table sits Alex Timbers, the 35-year-old ringmaster behind this $16.5 million circus, which debuted to rapturous reviews in Hamburg, Germany, in the fall of 2012. Timbers high-fives his production assistants on his way to the stage. “The trick with shows like this is to not get too bogged down in the minutiae or you’ll never get out of tech, like one of those crazy European shows that spend six months to produce 30 minutes of shadow puppetry.” He bounces down the aisle to discuss an errant spotlight, which apparently doesn’t fall under minutiae.
Lorrie Moore orders the fried cheese curds, unable to resist the joke. “I’m having a Proustian journey back to Wisconsin,” she says, as she pushes a forkful of the curds into her mouth. Moore, 57, is the much-revered author of three novels and now a fourth short-story collection, Bark, out this week. After teaching at the University of Wisconsin–Madison for the past 30 years, she has just relocated to Nashville for a job at Vanderbilt University. She’s been there all of four weeks when we meet at Pinewood Social, a restaurant–bar–coffee shop–bowling alley set in a converted trolley barn along the Cumberland River.
The adaptation of the Jonathan Lethem bestseller — a 1950s Brooklyn crime novel featuring a detective with Tourette's — has been in the words for 15 years, but Edward Norton has finally locked down the financing (from Brett Ratner). Norton will direct and star in his adaptation, meaning you can expect the Norton-Tourette's Oscar articles in 2015? 2016?
The lights come up, with no fuss or pizazz, on a plainly dressed farmwoman, the endless American heartland stretching behind her. Are we in Oklahoma? Or even Oklahoma!? No, it’s Iowa, but we may be forgiven for thinking of Aunt Eller with her butter churn. And though the thought is quickly dispelled as we learn, in a long musical sequence including barcaroles and waltzes and arias and chorales, that this woman, Francesca, came to the town of Winterset as a war bride from Naples, and that she is beautiful and sad and in a state of perma-longing, the connection to Rodgers and Hammerstein is not irrelevant. The Bridges of Madison County, though based on an insipid novel, is a very serious musical indeed, both rapturous and moral, with a gorgeous score by Jason Robert Brown. It is also one of the few recent Broadway shows to take up the challenge laid down by the great midcentury works of R&H and their cohort: to tell stories that weld important sociological upheavals to personal conflicts and somehow make them sing.
A local artist paid Ai Weiwei a strange compliment on Sunday by smashing one of the sixteen vases in the Chinese artist and activist's installation "Colored Vases" at the Pérez Art Museum Miami. Maximo Caminero tells the Miami New Times that he was protesting local museums excluding Miami artists while spending "many millions now on international artists." He was inspired by one of Ai's most famous works, "Dropping a Han Dynasty Urn," a series of photographs in which Weiwei smashes an ancient Chinese vase. "I saw it as a provocation by Ai to join him in an act of performance protest," said Caminero.
After the surprise success of The Cuckoo's Calling, J.K. Rowling will publish as a second novel under her crime-fiction pseudonym, Robert Gailbraith. Cuckoo protagonist Cormoran Strike (these names!) will return in The Silkworm, about a novelist who is murdered after writing a very unkind manuscript. Everyone is a suspect, etc. It's due in June, so your beach reading is covered.
I worried when it was announced that k.d. lang, the anti-capitalist chanteuse, would be replacing Fantasia Barrino in After Midnight — a revue I found just about perfect when it opened in November. Not that it seemed likely the producers of such a delicious and tasteful production, celebrating the music and dance styles of the Cotton Club during its heyday, would rotate hordes of has-beens and never-weres into the guest-star role. I wasn’t actually expecting to see, say, Carrot Top, and then Joe Biden. Still, worse has happened on Broadway — I’m looking at you, Chicago. And it wasn’t clear how lang’s demeanor and voice would suit the material, or how lang herself, now 52, would be suited. Not, surely, in Fantasia’s stunning cut-to-there gowns by Isabel Toledo!
Too many contemporary plays, though chewy at the start, are stale by the end. Aggressively interesting premises use up all their dramaturgical energy, leaving nothing to grow on as the minutes tick by. And time is not good to them in the larger sense, either. After fading in the second hour, they then fade completely in the following year. A decade on, they are empty shells with interchangeable titles. But despite its generic moniker, that has not been the case with Donald Margulies’s Dinner with Friends, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 2000 and a quiet stunner once again in the Roundabout’s radiant revival at the Laura Pels. It grows as it goes, and seems more substantial now than ever. Hard to say whether that’s because it has ripened like the tomatoes and wines it so obsessively considers — “What do you think of the Shiraz?” — or because time has ripened audiences into a deeper consideration of its sweet-and-sour midlife themes. Probably both. At any rate, it’s delicious.
Hudson — the founder of the Feature Inc. gallery, who went by one name — was one of the greatest of his generation, a generation that was rich in art-dealer talent. Feature opened on April Fool's Day 1984 with a show of work by Richard Prince, and was eventually among the first to exhibit the art of Takashi Murakami, Raymond Pettibon, Tom Friedman, Charles Ray, B. Wurtz, Judy Linn, Richard Kern, Lisa Beck, Tom of Finland, and many others. Hudson was 63, but seemed timeless. He was one of the last of his kind, and among the smartest, wittiest, and most visionary gallerists I've ever known — old-school in that he almost seemed not to want to be a dealer. He just loved art and artists.
Hugh Jackman will return to take over hosting duties for the Tonys this year, taking over for Neil Patrick Harris, who is likely busy starring in John Cameron Mitchell's Hedwig and the Angry Inch Broadway revival (for which he is eligible for nomination). No matter: Jackman has been saving up those exuberant screams and enthusiastic arms for a few years now. No doubt you'll see plenty of both when he emcees the June 8 show.
She'll star opposite Ewan McGregor in a revival of Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing, which opens in October. Gyllenhaal will play Annie, the (spoiler, kind of) second wife who keeps going on and on about the guy locked in prison. We continue to look forward to this play!
Partly because it's Lena Dunham and partly because she got paid $3.7 million to write it, but the Girls creator's first book, Not That Kind of Girl, has been hotly anticipated since we first knew it existed. Now we know what it will look like and when we'll be able to look at it. Earlier today, Dunham Instagrammed a photo of herself holding a copy and captioned it, "It's official. Coming 10/7/14." She seems pretty excited about it. It does seem better than an e-book.
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