Thursday, December 14, 2017

Pleasantly Premiering in SHAW

I'm excited that my article "Premieres Unpleasant: How the Infamous Debut of Shelley's The Cenci Helped Make Shaw a Playwright" is appearing in the newest issue of the journal SHAW.

The piece started out as a paper I gave at the "Shaw in New York" conference in 2015. It was well received, so I did some work on it, including tracking down the rights to some images I wanted to reproduce with the article, and now it's running in the journal.

That's quite an honor, considering the high quality of some of the other articles in this issue. Bernard Dukore has a great piece on Shaw and paternity, Jesse Hellman has a fascinating article on Shaw's flirtation with Grace Gilchrist, and Stanley Weintraub has published a piece on Shaw's playlets based on the talk he gave at the same New York conference.

Also, Pablo Ruano has an article comparing Shaw to an author near to my heart: Charles Dickens. Ruano notes that Sartorius and Lickcheese in Shaw's Widowers' Houses closely resemble Caseby and Panks in Little Dorrit, Britannus in Caesar and Cleopatra seems to be modeled after Mr. Podsnap in Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, and Bohun in Shaw's You Never Can Tell is based on Jaggers in Great Expectations.

There are also a couple of internationally focused articles in the journal, Kay Li's "A Rendezvous in Beijing" about Shaw's meeting with Chang Hsiao Liang and L.W. Conolly's exquisitely titled "GBS in the USA." A special thanks to editor Christopher Wixson for putting together this great issue!

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Anderson's Carol

I just watched the 1954 television version of A Christmas Carol adapted by the playwright Maxwell Anderson.

You would think I would have been familiar with it already. I'm a big fan of the works of Charles Dickens, and I even penned my own stage adaptation of A Christmas Carol, which was done in 2007.

However, I had never seen this version until I came across it on the blog Laughing Academy. CBS originally ran the hour-long program the night before Christmas Eve, sponsored by Chrysler, which comically interrupted the story to try to sell station wagons to viewers.

The version stars Fredric March as Scrooge and Basil Rathbone as Marley's Ghost, but I was more interested in the adapter. Maxwell Anderson was no mere hack. He had won the Pulitzer Prize for drama in 1933 for Both Your Houses. I remember him more for his 1948 play Anne of a Thousand Days. (When I was in middle school, I played a choir boy in a production of it at the University of West Florida.)

Anderson is credited with writing both the adaptation and the lyrics, which might seem odd, until you remember that he penned the lyrics for the Kurt Weill musical Knickerbocker Holiday, including the hit "September Song":

                    But it's a long, long while from May to December
                    And the days grow short when you reach September
                    And the autumn weather turns the leaves to flame
                    And I haven't got time for the waiting game…

Yes, this adaptation is a musical, and though not every number is a "September Song," some of the lyrics aren't bad, including those for the opening carol, "On This Darkest Day of Winter."

The most interesting aspect of Anderson's script is the use of double casting. Belle also plays the Ghost of Christmas Past, and Fred is also the Ghost of Christmas Present. A stuffed blackbird in Scrooge's apartments (an allusion to Grip in Barnaby Rudge perhaps?) then becomes the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come.

This adaptation definitely feels like something from the early 1950s. It's not brilliant, but it is fun, and it's only an hour long, so if you're looking for a short adaptation of the classic story, it's worth watching.

Saturday, December 2, 2017

Our First Read of BURNED

Tonight, composer Joshua H. Cohen and I had our first table read of our new musical Burned.

We debuted some songs from Burned earlier this year as a part of Golden Fleece's Square One Series. Hana Slevin and Owen Beans sang the parts of Pamela and Gerald, and they helped us out again tonight, reading those same roles.

Burned is inspired by A.A. Milne's play The Lucky One about two brothers and their shifting fortunes. We’ve reset the piece during the 2008 financial crisis. We also gender swapped the character of the family lawyer, which worked quite well when read this evening by Erin Leigh Peck.

Other actors who read for us included Doug Rossi, Mat Hostetler, Gordon Stanley, Nick Luckenbaugh, Ali Gordon, and Joan Barber. Thanks to all involved!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

MACBETH for the Toy Theatre

I just got back from seeing a student production of Shakespeare's Macbeth at City College. This reminded me of the toy theatre versions of the play I saw over the summer while doing research at the New York Public Library.

Here's an image from Hodgson's toy theatre plates. Notice, they were going for the full-on Highland look. This seems typical for the nineteenth century.


Duncan looks perhaps a bit less openly Scottish, but fittingly regal in this image from the third plate of characters:


I'm quite amused by this soldier bringing Birnam Wood to Dunsinane:


Of course, the star of the show is usually Lady Macbeth, shone here with daggers:


In addition to buying plates of characters, toy theatre owners could buy whole scenes to drop down into their miniature stages to create a tableau. Here's one of the banquet scene:


I like the expression on Banquo's face. "Just look at what you did to me, Mackers! Just look!" I imagine some Victorian child just loved that.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Pollock's Toy Theatres

My last full day in London, I went to Pollock's Toy Museum. If you didn't know, Pollock's was once one of the major manufacturers of toy theatres, and the museum has quite a few of them.

Back in the nineteenth century, making prints for the toy theatre was a family affair. Benjamin Pollock got into the business in 1877 when he married Eliza Reddington, who had inherited a theatrical print warehouse from her father. This gave Pollock access to toy theatre sheets from both J. K. Green and J. Redington, which he republished under his own name.

Pollock sold a plain print for a penny, and for two pennies you could buy a colored print. His daughter Louisa did the coloring by hand, but the family also hired an assistant who used stencils to color plates. After Pollock died in 1937, his children took over the business.

I've seen plates for toy theatres in libraries and museums, but Pollock's Toy Museum gives you an opportunity to see the finished product in the form of fully assembled stages. Here's a side view of a toy theatre version of John Home's play Douglas:


And here you can see footlights that could burn colza oil:


If you're in London, the museum is definitely worth a visit!


Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Let's Talk About Ibsen

In yesterday's blog entry, I wrote about seeing Donmar Warehouse's production of The Lady From the Sea by Henrik Ibsen. It was a new version by Elinor Cook, and I have mixed feelings about the adaptation.

First off, The Lady From the Sea is one of my favorite plays, but I have only seen it staged in loose adaptations. I give Cook credit for keeping in the brilliant subplot in which the title character's stepdaughter Boletta wrestles with her attraction to her former tutor, Arnholm. In the end, though, Cook normalizes their relationship, instead of taking it to the extremes imagined by Ibsen.

Boletta is an exceptionally bright young woman who needs to leave her provincial hometown, but feels bound to stay with her father. Arnholm offers her a helping hand, but he cares for her as more than just a former teacher. She at first hesitates to accept his help, until he offers it unconditionally, whether she loves him or not. Granted the full freedom to go or stay, to marry him or remain single, she chooses--

And here's where Cook departs slightly from the original. In her version, Boletta offers her suitor a sprig of hope, but doesn't fully commit to him. The half-measure seems rational, but eliminates much of the romance in the original. It's a bit like Cook's decision to take away the supernatural overtones of the mysterious sailor who returns for the title character, Ellida, after many years.

Ellida's great mistake was to swear fidelity to that sailor in her youth, when the two cast their rings into the sea. Fortunately she's learned her lesson now, and would never, ever do something like that again.

Wait, WAIT! What is this adaption having her do in the last scene? NO!

Sigh.

Maybe someday I'll get to see the play the way Ibsen actually wrote it, but I probably shouldn't hold my breath.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Back From London

Last night, I got back from London. As I previously wrote, I was doing research on toy theatres at the British Museum. I also got to see Oscar Wilde's A Woman of No Importance and Anders Lustgarten's The Secret Theatre.

On Friday, having completed my research at the museum, I went to the National Gallery and then took a tour of Highgate Cemetery. I saw the grave of Karl Marx, the chief figure in my play Capital. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the grave of Lizzie Siddal, the subject of my play Ophelia's Grave, but the National Gallery did have one of her sketches.

That night, I headed down to Seven Dials, which was once London's most infamous slum. (The equivalent in New York was Five Points.) It's not a slum at all anymore, and actually has quite a few high-end retailers. I was there, however, to see the Donmar Warehouse production of The Lady From the Sea.

I have quite a few thoughts on the production, but they'll have to wait, as it's almost midnight and I'm ready for bed. I had a great time, but it's good to be home.