Saturday, June 15, 2024

Daddy Issues

On this Father's Day Eve, I went to Central Park to see New York Classical Theatre perform Henry IV.

Director Stephen Burdman adapted both parts of Shakespeare's two central plays from the Henriad into one two-hour performance, featuring a game cast frequently performing multiple roles.

Ian Antal plays Prince Hal, the heir to the throne who finds himself torn between two father figures, his actual father, King Henry IV (Nick Salamone), and his surrogate father, the rascally Sir John Falstaff (John Michalski).

Due to financial constraints, the production has to rely on considerable amounts of doubling, often with actors changing their personas purposefully in full view of the audience. Juan Luis Acevedo, for instance, plays the rebellious Northumberland, only to then personify law and order as the Lord Chief Justice.

Some originally male parts are also adjusted to be played by women. Anique Clements plays Ned Poins, now transformed into Bess Poins, as well as Edmund (now Countess) Mortimer. Carine Montbertrand plays the Earl of Worcester (also transformed into a Countess in this version) as well as the tavern keeper Mistress Quickly. One of the best female roles in the play is Hotspur's wife, Lady Katherine, played by Briana Gibson Reeves, who is this production also doubles as Bardolph.

Frequently, when companies combine the two parts of Henry IV, they basically just do Part One, and then a couple of scenes from Part Two. While this adaptation heavily leans on the first play, it also includes key scenes from the sequel sometimes left out of productions. These include the mourning of Lady Katherine and the politic maneuvers of Hal's younger brother John (played by Damian Jermaine Thompson, who also plays Hal's foil Hotspur).

The show is still in previews, but is scheduled to run until June 30th in Central Park. Then, it will be playing from July 2nd through 7th in Carl Schurz Park and July 9th through 14th in Battery Park. See it if you can!

Monday, June 10, 2024

Back from Dublin

Yesterday, I got back from Dublin, where I was attending the International Shaw Society's conference on Bernard Shaw's Ireland.

Wednesday morning, I woke up before 5:00 am, jet-lagged, so I walked around a bit before the conference started. That's when I went by the Smock Alley Theatre, the latest in a number of theatres that have been on that street since the 17th century.

The first Theatre Royal on Smock Alley was established by John Ogilby in 1662, not long after the Restoration brought a return of legal drama to Britain and Ireland. The original building was demolished and replaced in 1735.

That second theatre came to be managed by Thomas Sheridan, whose son Richard Brinsley Sheridan later became famous for penning such plays as The School for Scandal. Though the theatre featured such stars as Peg Woffington and Charles Macklin, it eventually closed in 1787.

The building was partially demolished, but some of it got incorporated into a new church beginning in 1811. That church building provides a home for the new Smock Alley Theatre, which opened in 2012. Though quite a long time has passed since the old theatre closed, the new company tries to pay homage to the site's heritage.

Bernard Shaw wasn't born until 1856, so he never attended performances on Smock Alley. Neither did his contemporary, Oscar Wilde, though objects related to both men were on display at the Museum of Literature Ireland, which provided the venue for the conference. It's worth a visit!

Friday, June 7, 2024

Bernard Shaw's Ireland

Today was the last day of the International Shaw Society's conference on Bernard Shaw's Ireland, held by University College Dublin.

On Wednesday, Nelson O'Ceallaigh Ritschel delivered a keynote on Shaw and the 1920s London-Irish Theatre. He noted that the 1919 revival of Arms and the Man began a post-war renewal of interest in Shaw's work on the London stage. This continued throughout the decade with frequent revivals, and in 1929 the Court Theatre premiered a new Shaw play, The Apple Cart.

Next, David Clare chaired a panel on Shaw and Socialism that included Marie Hewelt discussing Pygmalion and Eamon Jordan talking about Widowers' Houses. Audrey McNamara chaired a second session that included Lisa Robertson on John Bull's Other Island and Kumar Parag on Candida. We also had a performance of the discarded defense Shaw wrote for the Irish rebel Roger Casement, and in the evening Paddy O'Keefe performed his one-man show Shaw Invites You.

Thursday morning, Lauretta Lenker delivered a plenary on Shaw and Virginia Woolf, who both coincidentally lived at different times at 29 Fitzroy Square in London. She spoke about Woolf's novel Between the Acts and Shaw's drama Saint Joan. That play was featured prominently in the next talks given by Doborah Payne and Ellen Dolgin, as did Shaw's Geneva. After we broke for lunch, Dorothy Hadfield delivered a second plenary on Charlotte Shaw, and then we heard from Brad Kent and Loic Wright.

I presented my own paper on John Bull's Other Island on Friday morning, accompanied by Mary Christian who discussed The Dark Lady of the Sonnets and Julie Sparks who spoke on Shaw's sequel to A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen. Tony Roche then delivered a plenary on how Dion Boucicault influenced Shaw, who in turn influenced Brian Friel's play Translations. In the afternoon, both Vishnu Patel and Tae-Yong Eom discussed post-humanism in Back to Methuselah.

The venue for the conference was the Museum of Literature in Ireland, which had some great displays. Tomorrow, I look forward to seeing some of Dublin and then catching a play at the famed Gate Theatre.

Thursday, May 30, 2024

History on Stage

Today is the Feast Day of Joan of Arc, a historical figure who has inspired a number of plays, including Bernard Shaw's Saint Joan, Jane Anderson's Mother of the Maid, and my own Dark Night of the Soul.

History has always been an inspiration for dramatists, and this Saturday another history-inspired play of mine, Snip o' the Shears, will have a staged reading at the Hamilton Grange branch of the New York Public Library.

Snip o' the Shears is based loosely on accounts of Betsy Ross, the Philadelphia-based upholsterer who according to legend sewed the first modern flag of the Uniter States. She will be portrayed this Saturday by Rebecca Ana Peña. Rachael Langton is directing the reading.

Later this summer, I'll be presenting a paper on plays inspired by historical slave revolts. I'll be discussing J.H. Amherst's The Death of Christophe King of Hayti, as well as W.H. Murray's Obi; or, Three-Fingered Jack. This will be at a conference by the British Association for Romantic Studies in Glasgow.

That conference will be in July, and then in August I'll be giving a paper online for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism on Felicia Heman's historically inspired play The Vespers of Palermo. Hemans was literally writing about a massacre that occurred in medieval Sicily, but the 1823 play was also referencing the recent turmoil of the French Revolution.

George Gordon Byron wrote dramas inspired by history as well, and this fall I will be speaking on a panel at the annual Curran Symposium, co-sponsored this year by the Keats-Shelley Association of America and the Byron Society of America. The roundtable I'll be on will discuss Red Bull Theater's staged reading of Byron's Sardanapalus, about the ancient Assyrian king.

That's a long ways off yet, but I hope you can join me for the reading on Saturday. After that, I'll be off to a conference in Dublin... but more on that later!

Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Snip o' the Shears

This Saturday, June 1st, my short play Snip o' the Shears will be having a staged reading at the Hamilton Grange branch of the New York Public Library sponsored by Equity Library Theater of New York.

Saturday's reading features Rebecca Ana Peña and is directed by Rachael Langton. It brings back together the same team that did My Fellow Americans in 2022 at the Secret Theatre's Queens Short Play Festival.

Snip o' the Shears will be presented with a number of other short works, including Barefoot by John DeBenedetto, The Therapy Session by Risa Lewa, Tales of the Times (Metropolitan Diaries) by Martha Morenstein, The Last Burn by Laurie Graff, and Stagecoach Mary by Gail Rivers.

Admission is free, so come out at 1pm to see this afternoon of short work. The Hamilton Grange Library is located at 503 West 145th Street, just blocks from the Hamilton Grange National Memorial.

Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Victorian Shaw

The latest issue of SHAW has been guest edited by Mary Christian on Bernard Shaw as a Victorian, and it includes some provocative pieces, including an article of my own on The Devil's Disciple.

In her introduction to the issue, Christian notes that critics have considered Shaw as both a product of Victorianism and a rebel against it. I suspect that both are correct. The issue has articles by some of my favorite Shaw critics, including Ellen Dolgin, Jean Reynolds, and Christopher Wixson.

My own article "Subverting the Melodramatic in The Devil's Disciple" looks at the very first theatre review Shaw wrote as a critic for the Saturday Review, and how his criticisms of Sydney Grundy's play Slaves of the Ring paved the way for his own engagements with melodrama. I argue that The Devil's Disciple comically subverts not just Victorian melodrama, but Victorian conventions of marriage itself.

This fall, Gingold Theatrical Group plans to revive The Devil's Disciple Off-Broadway on Theatre Row from October 15th to November 23rd. Being as it's probably my favorite Shaw play, I am looking forward to it immensely. If GTG's production of Arms and the Man last year is any indication, it should be quite a show.

Next month, I'll be attending the International Shaw Society's conference in Dublin on Bernard Shaw's Ireland. It's scheduled to include talks by Christian and Dolgin, as well as such noted Shaw scholars as Nelson O'Ceallaigh Ritschel, Dorothy Hadfield, and Vishnu Patil. It should be great!

Saturday, May 18, 2024

Boris III

The enigmatic Bulgarian monarch Tsar Boris III is currently appearing onstage at 59E59 in the person of Joseph Cullen as a part of the Brits Off Broadway festival.

Cullen co-wrote the play The Brief Life & Mysterious Death of Boris III, King of Bulgaria together with Sasha Wilson, who plays Boris's wife Giovanna as well as assorted other roles.

Wilson, who is partially of Bulgarian descent, was fascinated by a book on Boris she found on her grandfather's bookshelf. Certainly an intriguing figure, Boris fought for his country on the losing side of World War I, and then aligned Bulgaria with the Axis powers during World War II, but sought to keep his people out of harm as much as he could.

Boris managed to convince the Axis powers to return to Bulgaria (after the war) territories it had lost at the end of World War I. In exchange, the country symbolically declared war on the United Kingdom and the United States, but did not have to send any troops to help Hitler invade the Soviet Union. It appeared to be a win-win situation... until it wasn't.

As the play chronicles, the price of this deal with Hitler was the Law for Protection of the Nation, a piece of anti-Semitic legislation that paved the way for Bulgarian Jews to be exterminated in concentration camps. That's what happened to the Jewish residents in the territories Boris hoped to reclaim for Bulgaria, but for Jews in Bulgaria proper, there was still hope.

Wilson and Cullen's play delves into some of the maneuvers under Boris that led to some 50,000 Bulgarian Jews being saved. The country's prime minister, Bogdan Filov (played by Lawrence Boothman), cooperated with the Nazis, among other things creating a Commissariat for Jewish Affairs that prepared to deport Jews to concentration camps. These plans were frustrated in part by Metropolitan Stefan (played by David Leopold), the head of the Bulgarian Orthodox Church who was later declared one of the Righteous Among the Nations for his actions to protect Jewish people.

The play gives considerable attention to a Jewish musician named Anka Lazarov (Clare Fraenkel), a sort of Bulgarian Everywoman who represents the plight of ordinary people during Boris's reign. The history of this era in the Balkans, much like Boris's death, remains shrouded in unknowns and hypotheticals. The play gives one account of what might have happened, though, broadening the horizons of New York audiences.