Thursday, October 25, 2012

Smashing Pumpkins with Big Dance Theater

Posted By on Thu, Oct 25, 2012 at 9:00 AM

  • Paula Court
Near the end of our chat, Annie-B Parson asked me why I thought it was important to talk with artists about their creative process. Whether she intended it, I sensed some resistance in the question, a resistance I think she shares with other artists and that I, as a playwright, have felt, too. I think it's good for certain aspects of a process to be inarticulate or unarticulated. Not because it preserves a romantic notion of mystery or prevents people from having access to the work, but because there is such a drive in our culture to tabulate and quantify and dissect every thing that we do—and much is lost in that process. A great deal ends up being oversimplified or made overly complex when we insist on getting the arts down in words or numbers. The inability to put it into words, the failure of language alone, is precisely why we so often turn to the arts for other modes and means of expression.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Cirque du Pina: Like Moss on a Stone at BAM

Posted By on Wed, Oct 24, 2012 at 11:30 AM

  • Stephanie Berger
The choreographer Pina Bausch can break your heart. But in this, the last show she created before her death in 2009, she wants—wanted—to make us laugh. Structured like a Cirque du Soleil show, "...como el musguito en la piedra, ay, si, si si..." features clownish, punchliney, often surreal group interludes ("this is my fish, and I want to teach it to walk. Not swimming—walking!") that punctuate the larger set pieces—not acrobatic feats but dance numbers. It feels like everyone in Pina's troupe, the Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, has a personal showcase in this show, not unlike in Wim Wenders's 2011 documentary.

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Friday, October 12, 2012

Brutality in Belonging: Political Mother at BAM

Posted By on Fri, Oct 12, 2012 at 12:20 PM

A tale told in mirages, the dance-theater piece Political Mother is accompanied by live rock musicians and military drums. Props—a monster mask, a gun and a sword—are lined up like a series of gritty punctuations within a flip book of tableaux. This melodrama, by UK-based choreographer Hofesh Schecter (making its New York premiere at BAM), bravely outlines a journey of radical individualism in the face of belonging. Iconic-seeming images of a lead singer and a speechifying politician hang fervent alongside a choir of dancers falling in and out of unison. As these images begin to overlap and retract, a pattern of rage, rock and recover seems to drive the work, building to an ending you won’t forget—and, in fact, already know.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Literature Unbound: Liberating Hemingway and Fitzgerald From the Brooklyn Library

Posted By on Mon, Sep 24, 2012 at 9:44 AM

Theater troupe Elevator Repair Service has become known for its epic, text-respectful adaptations of American modernist classics: The Sound and the Fury, The Sun Also Rises, The Great Gatsby. This weekend, the company took those three books and read them aloud as they scattered out through shelves of fiction at Brooklyn's Central Library. Well, sort of. They read excerpts from all three at once, out of order. The actors each carried one of the books; its insides had been hollowed out to make room for a smart phone, on which scrawled clauses, lines of dialogue and full-sentence narrations culled from the three books. An actor might discuss his younger and more vulnerable years before another would mention Robert Cohn's boxing career at Princeton. "If you're tight, then go to bed," one might say. "Dilsey said," another might add.

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Backstage at Detroit With Lisa D'Amour: "Even Playwrights Get Stage Fright"

Posted By on Wed, Sep 19, 2012 at 1:07 PM

A playwright writes her play, prints out a nice clean copy, mails it off to the theater, and her job is done. The theater takes it, sprinkles a little fairy dust on top, et voila, presto change-o, a beautiful, Broadway-ready production emerges ready for all the world to behold.

Not really.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Why Does Brooklyn Appeal to Theater People?

Posted By on Tue, Sep 11, 2012 at 10:35 AM

members of Elevator Repair Service, which will perform at the Central Library
  • members of Elevator Repair Service, which will perform at the Central Library
Brooklyn's first theater festival, the BEAT Festival, kicks off tomorrow: over 12 days, 13 acts will hold 38 performances at eight venues around the borough—in Williamsburg, Park Slope, Flatbush, Red Hook, Coney Island and more. We talked to artistic director Stephen Shelley about the theater scene in New York and how it's moving into Brooklyn.

Why didn't something like this didn't exist already?
I think we've reached a true moment of ripening. There are so many performing artists here now that something simply had to happen. I also think that most artists are so fully focused on their own work, that they wouldn't have time and energy to build something like a festival. The attraction for me was to be creative in both a community-building and business way within the performing arts community. BEAT was the perfect project for me.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

David Cromer: "New York Smells Like Garbage!"

Posted By on Tue, Aug 28, 2012 at 9:55 AM

On the set of Picnic. He would never go for a picnic in NYC, because theres no grass and it smells like garbage.
  • On the set of Picnic. He would never take a picnic in NYC, because there's no grass and it smells like garbage.
One-time MacArthur Fellow and celebrated theater director David Cromer gave an interview to Chicago Magazine in which he trash talked New York—literally! (Sort of?) "There are no alleys in New York," he told the magazine, "which means the garbage is on the street. In Chicago, there's grass everywhere. It's so much quieter and everything smells better." The Q&A isn't on-line, as far as I can tell; he obviously thought we'd never find out all the way in New York!

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Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Richard III Without a Stage or a Set

Posted By on Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 9:00 AM

Let it never be said that the Mobile Theatre Unit is not a delightful name. It conjures up images of dramaturgical first responders speeding through the night to on-stage disasters. (“Quick, Robin, to the Bardmobile!”) To the scene of tragedy, these people bring Tragedy. The Unit—let’s call it that—is currently staging Richard III at the Public Theater (through August 25), following a three-week tour of such hotbeds of dramatic art as Riker’s Island and New Jersey homeless shelters. At these inauspicious locations our selfless thespians ladle out Shakespeare like so much free soup, delivering the good news that among the many things of which the audience has been deprived, it has also been missing out on Elizabethan drama.

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Friday, August 3, 2012

A Play That's Just Fun: The Girl of the Golden West

Posted By on Fri, Aug 3, 2012 at 9:30 AM

The stakes always seem so high in New York City. Too high. For many young artists presenting their work on stages, in galleries, or elsewhere, there's a sense that this is an all-or-nothing town. You get one shot, at very high expense (living costs, venue costs, advertising and public relations fees are much higher here than elsewhere), and as someone who isn't a celebrity or backed by a large institution, you're likely to have small audiences. Add to that the expectation that the artwork you create not only needs to meet outsize financial goals, but also needs to serve some kind of common good or have important things to say about the world, or else engage in serious aesthetic or theoretical conversations with other works of art that, in the vernacular, push the field forward.

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Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Unprecedented Movement: Pina Bausch at Lincoln Center

Posted By on Tue, Jul 24, 2012 at 2:48 PM

The late Pina Bausch is to dance as Stravinsky is to music or Picasso to art: a modern warper, an unraveler, of classical forms. As I watched Wim Wenders' documentary last year about the late German choreographer, I was awed. I had never seen people move that way before, blending classical grace with modern angularity, dancers who contort, flail, flop, fall, jerk, carry each other, drag each other, crawl across the floor, collapse in on themselves, get pulled in unnatural directions by invisible forces—or who simply lay face down on the floor, as Orpheus does in the first movement of Bausch's avant-garde adaptation of Gluck's surprisingly familiar opera score for Orpheus and Eurydice, which the Paris Opera Ballet performed at the Koch Theater this weekend as part of the Lincoln Center Festival. Such an anguished Orpheus, to match such mournful music.

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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Macbeth in a Madhouse

Posted By on Tue, Jul 17, 2012 at 1:27 PM

It was chilly in the Rose Theater on Saturday afternoon, which seemed appropriate—I imagine psych wards, at the least the emetically green-tiled kind assembled on the stage, are cold. Directors John Tiffany (Once, Black Watch) and Andrew Goldberg's abbreviated Macbeth, which ended its short run in the Lincoln Center Festival that Saturday, is a (mostly) one-man show starring Alan Cumming in every major part, and set in a mental hospital. It opens with him stripped by two attendants, his clothes packed into evidence bags: this is Macbeth set after the action of Macbeth, with the thane-turned-king reliving his tragedy on a Sisyphean loop.

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Thursday, June 21, 2012

As You Like It is Perfect in the Park

Posted By on Thu, Jun 21, 2012 at 10:00 PM

If ever a Shakespeare play were suited to the Delacorte, it's his mid-career comedy As You Like It, set as it is in a forest; it's hard to tell where John Lee Beatty's set ends and Central Park begins, as fake trees recede into the real thing. I mean, really, what work would benefit more from the songs of squeaking birds darting by, or the eventual emergence of flitting insects? In this makeshift urban wood we find a band of followers of an exiled duke, climbing out of trees, ragged and revelrous like Robin's Merry Men. They sing, they dance, they generally delight—and it's delightful, as joyous as when the Peanuts lose themselves to the jazzy rhythms of Vince Guaraldi. Steve Martin's songs—sweet, festive and catchy—employ a folk-country idiom that suits perfectly the woodsy, homespun vibe.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2012

A Living Room Vanya, So Intimate You Can Smell Michael Shannon

Posted By on Wed, Jun 20, 2012 at 2:45 PM

For celebrated playwright Annie Baker's new version of Chekhov's Uncle Vanya (through at least July 22), the small Soho Rep theater has been transformed into a living room—a living room in the most miserable house in Russia. Beige carpet covers everything: the floor, the walls, and the two-tiered risers, where audience members sit cross-legged, pillows at their backs. In this soft, warm and intimate production, directed by Sam Gold, the actors use their ordinary speaking voices, and get so close to the audience you can smell them (Michael Shannon is musky!), can really feel the feeling in Ivan Petrovich and his extended family's grumblings, ruminations, and sufferings of unrequited love: he rails against his past, its misguided passions and its failures. Youth resents age; age resents aging.

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Thursday, June 14, 2012

Storefront Church: Inspirational Theater

Posted By on Thu, Jun 14, 2012 at 8:59 AM

  • Kevin Thomas Garcia
"This country was built by giants," one character says in Storefront Church. "They died, and midgets moved in." The latest play from writer-director John Patrick Shanley, and the conclusion to his Church and State trilogy that began with Doubt, is about the smallness of great men and the greatness of small men, about the upside-downness of contemporary American society. It aims no less than to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame of this subprime mortgage-crisis era, a play thoroughly of its time. It may not be such a masterpiece, destined through its timeliness for timelessness, but it is a great play, full of rousing speechifying about the emptiness of wealth, knee-slapping humor, and poignant drama about the unbearable smallness of being, at least under capitalism.

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Friday, June 8, 2012

The Storm: Go Forth & See It, Forthwith.

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 3:29 PM

Beasts of The Storm in action, stewing and brewing. Photo courtesy Secret Project Robot and Saints of an Unnamed Country.
  • Beasts of The Storm in action, stewing and brewing. Photograph by Jen Plaskowitz.

It's hellblaze, it's hailfire, it's End Times in a woodshire.

It's beast-fest, it's creature talk, it's peril-loom with Wolf astalk.

And it's winds and rains, and hymns and flames, and sylvan news among cauldrons and stews unto potions and motions of Apocalypse brew.

And it's so cleverly timely, and so gravely eternal. It's The Storm: An Apocalyptic Folk Operetta, written by Stuart Cameron, executed by Saints of an Unnamed Country and staged, for two more nights, at Secret Project Robot.

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Couples Go Through Hell, aka IKEA

Posted By on Fri, Jun 8, 2012 at 1:53 PM

"Fights about furniture become fights about the issues that, perhaps, have been buried or ignored for months and years," says Dano Madden, one of the playwrights behind Leaving Ikea, a quasi-paranormal relationship comedy. "Ikea has become a name people simply understand as a maze of exhaustion and relationship hell." 30 Rock even did an episode about it. But this new two-part work by the Artful Conspirators—the Brooklyn-based theater company behind last year's Brooklyn Underground, which was about and performed at Green-Wood Cemetery—has been in development for almost four years, since it won every night at a pitch to an audience of theater concepts called 30 ideas, 3 of them good.

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Friday, June 1, 2012

St. Ann's Warehouse Moving into Tobacco Warehouse After All

Posted By on Fri, Jun 1, 2012 at 8:58 AM

In November 2010, the Brooklyn Bridge Park Corporation, with the National Park Service, announced that St. Anne's Warehouse, the DUMBO theater on Water Street, would renovate and move into the crumbling Tobacco Warehouse, also on Water Street and a part of Brooklyn Bridge Park. But local activists cried foul and filed suit, arguing that public land should not be privately developed (and that the process by which the land was transferred did not follow the law); the plan fell apart when a federal judge struck it down.

But a new deal will allow the theater to move in after all, the Brooklyn Paper reports.

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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Pina Bausch's Dance Company Coming to BAM in October

Posted By on Tue, May 22, 2012 at 9:45 AM

Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, the dance company run by Ms. Bausch until her death in 2009, will return to BAM in October as part of the Next Wave Festival to present her final work. It's the first time the company will perform in the city since Wim Wenders's documentary Pina became an art-house blockbuster late last year. (The company presented Vollmond at the 2010 Next Wave festival.) “… como el musguito en la piedra, ay si, si, si …” (Like moss on a stone) will have its US premiere October 18, and run for about a week.

BAM "has been [Pina's] exclusive US home since 1986," the publicist handling the show told us. "We were always planning to present it; it has nothing to do with the film, although obviously it was amazing to see an iconic BAM artist get worldwide recognition and meant a huge deal to all of us who have worked with Tanztheater Wuppertal, many for 30 years."

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Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Time to Stop Standing Ovations

Posted By on Mon, May 21, 2012 at 2:24 PM

  • Tools.
I'm easy to spot in a theater—when it comes time to applaud, I'm that one guy who's sitting down. (The only person younger than 75, anyway.) It has become customary in this town—in Broadway theaters and off-Broadway theaters, concert halls and opera houses—not only to clap for a job well done, but to do so on one's feet; the standing ovation is now the default ovation. Of course, this renders the standing ovation meaningless, so I won't do it; there are times you want a performer to know that what they've done is exceptional, that they've really knocked your socks off—Pinchas Zukerman after Beethoven's "Violin Concerto," or Christian Borle at the end of Peter and the Starcatcher—but as audience members we no longer have a tool for such expression at our disposal. Stand up and you're just one more tourist "beating their flippers together like captive sea lions when the zookeeper arrives with a bucket of fish."

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

"Shitty Bedford in the Wolf Mask"

Posted By on Tue, May 15, 2012 at 4:23 PM

Call him Shitty Bedford, apparently.
  • Call him Shitty Bedford, apparently. Apparently, he designs masks.

I'm not quite sure who these folks are, but they're called Saints of an Unnamed Country. I'm not quite sure what they do in general, but I do rather like their name. And although I've been familiar with the goings-on at Secret Project Robot for years, I'm not quite sure how I received a certain email from them today, for I know that I've never requested them.

But I am happy I got this one. Because a forthcoming show, billed very fetchingly as The Storm: An Apocalyptic Folk Operetta, by Cameron Stuart, has me rather eager to see its New York debut in early June.

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