Friday, December 2, 2022

A CHRISTMAS CAROL Opens in a Week!

My two-person adaptation of Charles Dickens's A Christmas Carol was performed last year in Trenton, and now it's returning next weekend, opening one week from today.

Passage Theatre Company is producing the play December 9th through 11th. Aaron Oster is directing the production, which features Peter Bisgaier as Scrooge. Bisgaier played Scrooge last year as well, and was remarkable. He is producing artistic director of Pegasus Theatre Company in Bordentown, NJ, and has also appeared on stage at the Arden, InterAct, and Act II Playhouse, among many other companies. 

The other performer is Rich Bradford who plays Charles Dickens... as well as everyone else! Bradford is a founding company member with Theater In The X in Philadelphia. His award-winning one-man show To My Unborn Child: A Love Letter From Fred Hampton has been produced in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Trenton (at Passage Theatre, of course). He is assisted in his multiple roles by numerous props, costumes and puppets.

I hope you can come out to Trenton to see the show, which will be playing Friday night at 7:30 pm, Saturday at 3:00 pm and 7:30 pm, and Sunday at 3:00 pm. Get your tickets now!

If you aren't in the area, though, you'll be able to watch the play streaming from December 14th through 20th.

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Getting Married

On May 12, 1908, Bernard Shaw premiered a new play called Getting Married at the Haymarket Theatre in London.

Shaw subtitled the piece "A Disquisitory Play" which means it relates to a disquisition. Okay, so what the heck is a disquisition? A legal term borrowed from Norman French, a disquisition is an inquiry. Appropriately enough, the play inquires into the state of marriage and how it can be reformed.

Recently, Justine Zapin had an article in the journal Shaw comparing Getting Married to Henrik Ibsen's Ghosts. On the surface, at least, the two plays could not be more different. Ghosts is a painful tragedy, while Shaw's comedy sparkles and bubbles without ever feeling terribly serious. However, both pieces look back to classical drama. Ghosts reworks the Oresteia of Aeschylus, while Shaw stated in a note with the published text that "the Greek form" of unified action "is inevitable" in a play like Getting Married where "drama reaches a certain point in poetic and intellectual evolution."

Shaw's play is closer to the work of Aristophanes than that of Aeschylus, as it focuses on the happy idea that two young people might find out right before their wedding how unjust England's marriage laws are and refuse to go through with the ceremony. Just as Aristophanes often provides plucky female characters, Getting Married presents the audience with a number of women willing to challenge conventional ideas. Zapin's article focuses on three: Lesbia Grantham, Mrs. George Collins, and Edith Bridgenorth.

Lesbia, as her name might suggest, rejects men entirely and embraces spinsterhood rather than marriage. Mrs. George (as she is refereed to in the play) is a different matter. A powerful mayoress who also has humble roots in the tradesman class, she maneuvers to solve everyone's marital difficulties. When her practical-mindedness fails to untie the Gordian knot of modern marriage, however, she enters a trance-like state and begins to prophesize like a pythoness from ancient Greece:

When I opened the gates of paradise, were you blind? was it nothing to you? when all the stars sang in your ears and all the winds swept you into the heart of heaven, were you deaf? were you dull? was I no more to you than a bone to a dog? Was it not enough? We spent eternity together; and you ask me for a little lifetime more. We possessed all the universe together; and you ask me to give you my scanty wages as well. I have given you the greatest of all things; and you ask me to give you little things. I gave you your own soul: you ask me for my body as a plaything. Was it not enough? Was it not enough?

There is seemingly no answer to Mrs. George's question, yet to adopt the attitude of Lesbia will lead only to barrenness. It is up to Edith Bridgenorth to work out a compromise between the imperfect state of marriage in our society and the unattainable ideals marriage claims for us. Zapin interprets Edith's surname as indicating that she is literally a bridge to the future.

The play was not a success when it was originally staged, but it later made its Broadway debut at the Booth Theatre in 1916, running for 112 performances.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Ohio State Murders

Adrienne Kennedy is currently making her Broadway debut with Ohio State Murders, thanks to the star power of Audra McDonald, who plays the lead in this not-quite-one-person play.

McDonald also helped another great American playwright, Lanie Robertson, make it to Broadway when she starred in another not-quite-one-person play, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill. It's a reminder of how consequential stars can be, and how McDonald has used her influence to bring deserving plays to the boards.

Ohio State Murders also benefits from the direction of Kenny Leon, who has scored hits recently with his productions of Much Ado About Nothing and A Soldier's Play. Leon thrives when given quirky characters who behave in odd ways. He gives us just enough to have a glimpse at a character's hidden turmoil without having his performers rant and rail.

That approach is necessary for Ohio State Murders, which portrays a writer names Suzanne Alexander returning to her alma mater of Ohio State to give a speech about why there is so much violent imagery in her work. The reason, it turns out, has to do with certain events that happened on campus decades ago when she was a student. McDonald plays Alexander both as the idealistic young student and as the wary older author, but in both the past and present scenes, she holds everything together, and doesn't give way to waves of pain, grief, or vengeance.

Leon's directing approach also works for Bryce Pinkham, famous for his comic role in A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder, but playing a much more somber part in Kennedy's play. As Robert Hampshire, a lecturer at Ohio State who barely speaks when he's not lecturing, he is a constant enigma. Never at ease, either with others or with himself, he keeps both Alexander and the audience guessing as to his true intentions.

The production also boasts a magnificent set designed by Beowulf Boritt, showing suspended library bookcases, a deep chasm, and whirls of snow that all contribute to the play's effect. This is a production you won't want to miss, so go see it now!

Monday, November 21, 2022

Downstate

Last night, I saw Bruce Norris's new play Downstate, which is running at Playwrights Horizons with an absolutely amazing cast.

I went primarily to see Susanna Guzman, who I met when she was in my play Foggy Bottom at the Abingdon Theatre Company. Since then, her career has taken off, including a recurring role on Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

In Downstate, she plays a parole officer named Ivy who manages among her other "clients" four convicted sex offenders living in a group home in downstate Illinois. Fred, played by Francis Guinan, is the oldest of the four, and cannot get around without the aid of a wheelchair. At the beginning of the play, he is confronted by one of his former victims, though nothing in that interview goes the way anyone involved expects it to.

That's one of the great things about the play. No matter what our pre-conceived notions about sexual abuse might be, the characters upend them. That's particularly true for Dee, Fred's housemate and caregiver, played by K. Todd Freeman (an accomplished stage actor, though I know him best as Mr. Trick from Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Both Fred and Dee formerly abused boys, which makes their housemate Gio (played by Glenn Davis) look down on them, since he "made a mistake" with a teenage girl, which in his mind puts him in a completely different category.

The fourth housemate, Felix, is generally played by Eddie Torres, but last night the understudy, Matthew J. Harris, had to step into the role. Harris was excellent (as understudies usually are) and his tense scene with Guzman in the first act had the audience on the edge of our seats.

I don't want to give away too much of the plot, so go see it for yourself. Trust me, you won't be sorry.

Thursday, November 17, 2022

LEOPOLDSTADT Episode Airs Tomorrow

Tomorrow THEATER: All the Moving Parts on CUNY TV will be airing an episode on Tom Stoppard's new play Leopoldstadt featuring some commentary by yours truly.

The show will also feature Faye Castelow, Arty Froushan and Brendan Uranowitz, three of the 38 cast members in the play. Host Patrick Pacheco interviews them about the challenges of bringing Leopoldstadt to life. He also speaks to veteran Stoppard director Jack O'Brien and me about the writer's theatrical legacy.

You can catch the show tomorrow at 9:30 pm. It will then re-air on Saturday at 7:30 am and 3:30 pm, Sunday at 6:30 am, and then Monday at 7:00 am, 1:00 pm, and 11:00 pm. CUNY TV is available on NYC Metro 25.3, Spectrum/Optimum 75, RCN 77, and Verizon FiOS 30. If you've disconnected from cable, you can watch the show on its YouTube channel.

It was great fun filming the show. They were also kind enough to mention my new book Romantic Actors, Romantic Dramas which is now available both in hardcover and as an ebook. The ISBN for the print book is 978-3-031-13709-9 and for the ebook is 978-3-031-13710-5. It runs 233 pages and includes images of Regency actors including Sarah Siddons, Julia Glover, Edmund Kean, and Eliza O'Neill.

Unfortunately, in spite of being a finalist for the Dramatists Guild Foundation Fellows, I was not named as one of the fellows this year. However, the DGF has now named the fellows for this cycle: Aaron Coleman, Nicholas Connors, Joriah Kwamé, Matthew Libby, Zizi Majid, Julián Mesri, Gloria Oladipo, April Dae Okpwae, and SMJ. Congratulations to them all!

Saturday, November 12, 2022

Talfourd's ION

In the latest issue of Theatre Notebook, Christopher Butcher has an excellent article on William Charles Macready bringing Thomas Noon Talfourd's play Ion to the stage.

Though the play shares its title with a tragedy by Euripides, Talfourd's take is quite different, and involves the young prince Ion sacrificing his own life for the good of the state. The author had the piece printed privately and circulated it among a number of notables, including Macready.

The actor was excited about the play, but recognized that audiences might consider him too old to play a young character like Ion. However, impressed by Macready's performance in another tragedy on classical themes, Virginius, Talfourd requested the star actor to appear in the starring role. Macready was only too happy to oblige.

Originally, the play was supposed to be performed for Macready's benefit night at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Unfortunately, Macready had a violent quarrel with the theatre's manager, Alfred Bunn. Macready had to turn to Talfourd for legal advice in the matter. The actor wanted out of his contract at Drury Lane, and so he ended up using Ion as a pretext for gaining his own dismissal. He wrote to Bunn demanding that the play be brought into rehearsal as soon as possible. Bunn fired Macready for his impudence, which is precisely what the actor wanted.

Even before Bunn had fired him, Macready had begun negotiations to appear at the rival Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Included in his contract was a stipulation that Ion be performed. Eventually, the date of the premiere was set for May 26, 1836, which was also Talfourd's birthday. Macready wanted the painter Clarkson Stanfield to provide the scenery, though he was unfortunately unavailable.

Ellen Tree agreed to play the role of Clemanthe, and the piece was advertised as being for one night only. Joanna Baillie, the most highly regarded dramatist of her day, was in the audience, as were William Wordsworth, Walter Savage Landor, Henry Crabb Robinson, Henry Hart Milman, Robert Browning, Sheridan Knowles, and Charles Dickens.

The play was a success, with the audience calling for the author to take a bow. Talfourd received numerous letters congratulating him, and plans were made for a lengthier run, rather than just the one-night-only event. Macready had introduced cuts that greatly reduced the role of Clemanthe, and when the play later began its official run, Helen Faucit replaced Ellen Tree. At first, Faucit was disappointed by her own performance, but Talfourd wrote her a kind letter that buoyed her spirits.

Ion was performed June 1, 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, and 11 at Covent Garden, and would have run longer, except Macready had engagements elsewhere. It even led to a minor revival in Greek themes on the London stage. Though the play has been largely forgotten, Butcher's article brings new attention to this important moment in theatrical history.

Incidentally, if you want to read more about Macready, you can find plenty of information about him in my new book, Romantic Actors, Romantic Dramas. Though I don't have a full chapter on Macready, his career is discussed at length, as is the work of Baillie, Browning, Faucit, Knowles, Milman, and others.

And though I don't have an article in this issue of Theatre Notebook, my article "War, Pandemic, and Immortality: 1918 and the Drama of Eternal Life" appears in the latest issue of Shaw. Check it out!

Thursday, November 10, 2022

The Book Is Finally Out!

After a long wait, my new book Romantic Actors, Romantic Dramas: British Tragedy on the Regency Stage is now available from publisher Palgrave Macmillan.

The book reinterprets British dramas of the Romantic era through the lens of the star actors for whom they were written. It is the first book-length study to examine the interplay of early 19th century actors and the dramatists writing for them.

I've tried to answer questions about how and why actors from the Romantic period influenced major writers. The work focuses on four pairs of actors and playwrights: Sarah Siddons and Joanna Baillie, Julia Glover and S.T. Coleridge, Edmund Kean and Lord Byron, and Eliza O'Neill and P.B. Shelley.

If you're interested in any of those people, you'll want a copy of this book. Unfortunately, both the e-book and the hardcover version are rather pricey at the moment, but Palgrave Macmillan does frequently have sales, so keep your eyes open for possible discounts to come.

In the meantime, ask your local library to order a copy. The hardcover is still not officially released, but you will be able to pre-order the physical book soon. Electronic versions are available already.

The cover image features Eliza O'Neill. Interior images include a mezzotint of Siddons, a toy theatre version of Coleridge's play Remorse, a close-up photograph of a screen owned by Lord Byron, and a cartoon comparing Siddons and O'Neill.