Thursday, February 15, 2018

Succeeding the Siddons

I'm happy to announce that my article "Succeeding the Siddons: Eliza O'Neill and the Triumph of the Romantic Style" has been published in the British journal Theatre Notebook.

The article is based on a paper I gave at the Society for Theatre Research's conference on Theatre in the Regency Era in Cambridge, England. It deals with the effort to find a fitting successor to the great actress Sarah Siddons following her retirement.

If you're ever at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California, they have an excellent portrait of Siddons as the Tragic Muse. The folks at the Huntington were kind enough to allow me to reproduce an image of the painting in the journal.

Eventually, Eliza O'Neill became the new leading tragic actress in England. In order to reproduce an image of her, I requested new photography of an engraving of O'Neill owned by the British Museum. In November I got to spend some time in the prints and drawings collection at the museum, doing research on toy theatres. I hope to turn that research into another article soon.

In the meantime, if you check out the recent issue of Theatre Notebook, you'll also find articles by Leslie Thomson, John H. Astington, Geoff Davidson, and Alan C. Dessen. Enjoy!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Alice Premieres Next Month

Next month, I'll be heading down to North Carolina for the first fully staged production of my adaptation of Alice in Wonderland.

The production is being directed by Nick Lease and Michael Eubanks, two students at East Carolina University who are putting it together as their senior project. Their professor, Patch Clark, is mentoring them.

I'll be missing the first showing of the piece on Friday, March 16th, but I'll be there for a Saint Patrick's Day performance at the Children's Museum in Jacksonville, N.C. I'll get to see it again on March 18th at the historic Turnage Theatre in Washington, N.C.

I first wrote the adaptation at the request of the late great Christopher Catt. Kim Sharp at the Abingdon Theatre Company later directed two staged readings of the piece, the latter of which starred Mckenna Cox as Alice. She passed the script on to the folks at her alma mater, E.C.U.

And now, the play will be getting a full production! I'm looking forward to seeing it.

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Amy and the Orphans

Last night, I saw Lindsey Ferrentino's new play Amy and the Orphans at the Roundabout Theatre Company.

Jamie Brewer plays the titular Amy, but if you see the show with her understudy, Eddie Barbanell, the play will have the title Andy and the Orphans. There's very little in the play that is gender-specific about the central character, so why not?

In addition to showcasing the talented Brewer, the play also benefits from strong performances by Debra Monk as Maggie and Mark Blum as Jacob, the orphans of the title. Though they are now in their fifties or sixties, their parents have recently died, leaving them--technically--orphans. They now must pick up their younger sister Amy (or younger brother Andy) for the funeral.

The challenge is their sibling has Down syndrome, and in spite of their alleged focus on family, they really don't know much about her or how to relate to her. As they take a road trip down the Long Island Expressway (as Amy quips, the world's largest parking lot) they come to also question their parents' motives in institutionalizing Amy rather than raising her with the rest of the family.

We see the parents in flashback as a young couple with a shaky marriage, trying to figure out what to do with a child who might need more than they're prepared to give. As much as Maggie and Jacob blame their parents, though, the play is remarkably sympathetic towards them, showing that the world is often more complicated than just good guys and bad guys.

The play is skillfully directed by Roundabout's associate artistic director, Scott Ellis. If you want to see the show, check out the company's website:

Roundabout Theatre Company

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Farinelli and the King

Last night I saw Claire van Kampen's play Farinelli and the King at the Belasco Theatre. The show originated at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre in London, where last year I saw The Secret Theatre. Like all the plays at the Wanamaker, this piece is lit by candlelight, which is quite impressive to see in a big Broadway house like the Belasco.

Of course, the Belasco is not completely lit by candlelight. (Safety codes probably don't allow that.) Still, every effort is made to reproduce the atmosphere of the much smaller Wanamaker. Fortunately, the Belasco is small enough that even if you sit in the balcony (as I did) you can still have a nice view of the candlelit stage and magnificent period costumes.

Mark Rylance stars as King Philippe V, the Bourbon king who ruled Spain for much of the first half of the eighteenth century. Phillippe was known for his mental instability, which Rylance plays rather deftly. His weakness of mind made many advisors fear he would be dominated by his second wife, the unpopular Isabella Farnese, portrayed here by Melody Grove, who not surprisingly was nominated for an Olivier Award when she played the role in London.

In the play, Isabella patiently tries to deal with the antics of her husband, whom she clearly loves. Nothing seems to work, however, until she secures the services of the famous castrato singer Carlo Farinelli. Sam Crane plays Farinelli in the production, but his voice is provided by two singers, Iestyn Davies and James Hall. The music for the play is magnificent, including harpsichord, violins, cello, Baroque guitar, etc. Certainly, if you're a fan of Baroque music, the play is a must-see.

After the set-up of Act I, the play really finds itself in the second act as the king creates a small retreat in the forest where he lives in Edenic happiness with his wife and the seemingly magical Farinelli, whose music soothes his fits and helps him to recover his strength of mind. An Eden implies a fall, though, and the triad cannot be maintained. After the king dies (rather unexpectedly for this audience member) his beloved Isabella and Farinelli don't know what to do with themselves. Though once a star, the singer retreats into an attic and scorns the world of musical fame. It is as if he cannot get over the beauty and happiness he once had known.

For theatre history fans, the play also portrays John Rich, the English producer who opened the Theatre Royal at Covent Garden in 1732 and ran it until 1761. Simon Jones plays Rich as a harried, impatient manager constantly concerned that yesterday's hit won't pay tomorrow's expenses. Like the rest of the cast, he is a delight to watch.

If you want to see Farinelli and the King, it's only playing until March 25th, so get your tickets soon. For more information, go to:

Belasco Theatre

Monday, January 29, 2018

Burning Down the House

Thanks to everyone who came out last night to The Duplex Cabaret Theatre where Joshua H. Cohen and I debuted some new songs from out musical Burned.

We were honored to be a part of The Duplex's new composers series, In the Works. It was great to share the stage with songs from Patricia Noonan and Sean Mahoney's new musical Sweetwater, as well as the duo Pretty Sad White Girls (who are as funny as their name suggests).

Andrew Mayer did an excellent job not just singing in the duet "Think of Me" but also performing the song "Carry the Light" which he had only learned that day! We had originally planned a different number, but had to drop it due to an ill singer. Andrew more than carried the song, though.

Owen Beans, who sang the part of Bob at an earlier presentation in Golden Fleece's Square One Series, sang Bob again. This time, in addition to singing in "Think of Me" he delivered the act-one closer "Angel of Fire" (which included some back-up vocals by yours truly). Erin Leigh Peck sang the part of Cecilia in the comic number "Amicus Brief" to much acclaim.

Andrew David Sotomayor did a great job hosting the evening, which was put together by Honeck-Moss Productions. This was my first time meeting Thomas Honeck and Lisa Moss, but they're a wonderful duo. If you're interested, they're putting together another cabaret night at the Duplex this Thursday called RELATIONSH!T. It features a song by Josh (not from Burned).

I'll definitely be there. Will you?

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Patrician's Daughter

When J. Westland Marston's tragedy The Patrician's Daughter is remembered today, it's usually due to Charles Dickens. The novelist wrote a prologue for the play to be spoken by William Charles Macready, who played the role of Mordaunt in the original production at Drury Lane in 1842.

Dickens's verse prologue emphasizes the contemporary nature of the play, and praises the author for choosing a modern setting:

  Its solemn music he does not pursue
  To distant ages out of human view;
  Nor listen to its wild and mournful chime
  In the dead caverns on the shore of Time;
  But musing with a calm and steady gaze
  Before the crackling flames of living days,
  He hears it whisper through the busy roar
  Of what shall be and what has been before.
  Awake the Present! Shall no scene display
  The tragic passion of the passing day?

Though playwrights in the nineteenth century occasionally still wrote tragedies in blank verse, they usually did not set these poetic dramas in modern times. This was the innovation of The Patrician's Daughter that Dickens was praising. The phrase "Awake the Present" appears no fewer than three times in his prologue, which can be best summed up in its final three lines:

  Learn from the lessons of the present day.
  Not light its import and not poor its mien;
  Yourselves the actors, and your homes the scene.

In the first scene of the play, the heroine, Lady Mabel, is bemoaning the fact that women have so few choices in modern society. Still, she is determined to make the most of what agency she has. She tells her father:

  Women who marry seldom act but once;
  Their lot is, ere they wed, obedience
  Unto a father; thenceforth to a husband;
  But in the one election which they make,
  Choice of a mate for life and death, and heaven,
  They may be said to act.

Mabel is interested in Mordaunt, who is wealthy, though not of high birth like her. (She's the daughter of an earl.) She seems to regret that her life is not more romantic, though. In the play's second act, she laments to Mordaunt:

  O, would that I had lived in ancient days,
  The times of old romance! Do you not think
  I should have been a heroine?

His response to her is, "Why not be one now?" If women could be romantic heroines in the past, why not today, in modern drawing rooms wearing the clothes of today, not some bygone fashion? Marston's lines seem particularly self-conscious here, as it was the modernity of his verse tragedy that struck people as so novel. Mordant even uses a theatrical metaphor when he says later in the scene:

    Life's great play
  May, so it have an actor great enough, 
  Be well performed upon a humble stage.

We today would not consider Mordaunt from a humble background, but to Mabel's family, he is downright plebeian. Mabel's Aunt Lydia (originally played by Mary Warner) is so set against Mordaunt forming an alliance with her niece she concocts a plan to make him believe Mabel has already professed her love for him. When he asks to be accepted as an official suitor, Lydia tells Mabel that Mordaunt asked for her hand as part of a business transaction. Mabel is repulsed, and the courtship falls apart before it can even begin.

The fourth act skips ahead five years, and Mabel and Mordaunt are now engaged. During a painful scene with a notary, Mordaunt breaks off the engagement as an act of revenge, thinking Mabel and her family had betrayed him in the past. Mabel falls ill, and Lydia comes to regret her actions. In the first scene of Act Five she declares: "I am my niece's murderer!" Eventually, Mordaunt figures out what happened and asks for Mabel to take him back, but by that point it is too late, and she dies in his arms.

The Patrician's Daughter lasted only 11 performances. The experiment with modern verse tragedy did not catch on in the nineteenth century, though numerous poets (like W.B. Yeats) experimented with it in the twentieth.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Get BURNED this Sunday!

If you're free on Sunday, you might want to come out to The Duplex Cabaret Theatre to hear songs from Burned, a new musical I’m writing with Joshua H. Cohen.

Burned is based loosely on A.A. Milne's play The Luck One, but is reset during the 2007-08 financial crash. It has a rock-influenced score that is a pure joy to listen to.

We're presenting four songs from the musical as part of The Duplex's new composers series, In the Works. The songs will be performed by four great singers, Joan Barber, Owen Beans, Andrew Mayer, and Erin Leigh Peck.

You'll also get to hear some songs by Patricia Noonan and Sean Mahoney, as well as the duo Pretty Sad White Girls. Andrew David Sotomayor is hosting the evening, which was put together by Honeck-Moss Productions.

The event is this upcoming Sunday, January 28, at 9:30 p.m. in the cabaret theatre of the Duplex, 61 Christopher Street, in Greenwich Village.

There is a $10 cover plus a 2-drink minimum, but you can use the code "Cohen" for $5 off the cover.

For more information, go here:

Hope you can make it!