ISIS attack kills U.S. Navy SEAL in Iraq.
Report: Abstinence programs don’t stop HIV.
“Hamilton” gets record 16 Tony nominations.
Takata airbag recall grows to 35 million.
Miami-Dade legalizes Uber and Lyft.
We’ve had a good time at the Inge Festival. I’ve made some new friends, communed with fellow playwrights, shared stories about getting plays read and produced, and found out that I’m not the only one who gets up at 3 a.m. to write blog posts.
This year we had some reminiscences of years past, including the gala dinner at the Independence Country Club, a place I haven’t been to since 2001. I also had a moment in the library where I saw a book I had read back in grad school about American theatre and the prominence that the theatres were giving to the voices of the then-younger playwrights such as Lanford Wilson and Sam Shepard. The author seemed to think that they were replacing the great American playwrights such as Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller, as if they would supplant them and those of the old guard would no longer be important voices on the stage.
I’m glad to see that hasn’t come to pass. The writers that followed them will have writers who will follow as well, as they are now, but there will always be room for good writing no matter when it was written, and people will come and see good theatre and listen to exciting and challenging words.
So now I head home with my mission: keep writing.
Last night we saw a production of William Inge’s “Where’s Daddy?” marking the 50th anniversary of the play and the return to the play by Barbara Dana who was in the original cast on Broadway. This was a good production — fine acting with Ms. Dana playing Mrs. Bigelow, the mother of the character she played on Broadway, and well-directed by Karen Carpenter — but in the end the play itself is a mess. Inge was trying to get back into the good graces of the critics who had labeled him as hokey, a playwright whose time had passed, and out of tune with the modern times of the 1960’s. He tried to write something that spoke to modern problems and even tried to be hip by including a black couple as neighbors and having a character actually say out loud, “Do you think I’m a homosexual?”
There are two stories in “Where’s Daddy?”: the young couple struggling with their marriage and the impending birth of their child, and the young father’s conflicted feelings about his adoptive father figure and his questioning about his own sexuality. In previous works Inge has been able to meld stories like these together, but in this play it does not work. Rather than meld, they collide.
“Where’s Daddy?” takes Inge into territories where he has only hinted at before, but rather than the subtlety that we’d seen in previous works, he takes leaps.
It was a leap too far. The play ran two weeks and he never really tried for Broadway again. He moved to California to teach playwriting and continued with his life-long battle with depression. Seven years later he was dead by his own hand.
His suicide was not a direct result of the failure of “Where’s Daddy?”, but it is apparent from the time that he felt he had to please the critics, which is a dangerous and futile goal. One thing I have always believed as a writer is that you must first write for the characters and yourself. Nothing else matters because nothing else will be truer.
I’m somewhere between home and Independence, Kansas. Our route takes us through Dallas where they’re predicting thunderstorms, so I hope we make it on time. From there it’s in to Tulsa, then up to Independence. The 35th William Inge Festival gets underway tonight.
Here I am, 24 hours before the 35th William Inge Theatre Festival, and my allergies kick in.
Claritin, do your thing.
This is as good a time as any to tell you that from now through Sunday I’ll be in Inge mode: blogging about theatre and related fun but on a really limited basis because I just checked the schedule and I will be really busy. There’s a New Play Lab where thirty-five short plays will be read and discussed, and I have one being done. I’m also presenting a paper at the scholars conference, plus serving on a couple of panels. Joining me for his third trip to Inge is The Old Professor who also is having one of his plays done in the Lab.
There will be the usual tributes and gala dinners and plays, including a production of the rarely-seen Inge play, “Where’s Daddy?” starring Barbara Dana.
According to my count, this is my 25th Inge Festival. I think I’m getting the hang of it.
Who Poisoned Flint? — David A. Graham in The Atlantic reads the e-mails that tell the story.
Why did it take so long for state and federal government to do something about lead in the water in Flint, Michigan? Or, put another way, who is to blame, and who should have fixed it?There’s a telling moment within the 274 pages of emails released by Governor Rick Snyder’s office about Flint. Dennis Muchmore, then chief of staff to the governor, puzzles over who should be on the hook. He gripes about Representative Dan Kildee, and mentions former state Treasurer Andy Dillon.
Muchmore went on, “The real responsibility resists with the County, city and [Flint’s water authority], but since the issue here is the health of citizens and their children, we’re taking a pro-active approach.”
The question of who really is responsible has become suddenly widespread. On Thursday, news broke that the U.S. House will call Snyder to testify. The EPA official responsible for Michigan also resigned on Thursday. Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both called for Snyder to resign. The Wall Street Journal points a finger at every level of government. Disentangling the blame proves to be a difficult task.
Muchmore’s statement may seem a bit callous, but his mention of Dillon is somewhat tangential: After all, Dillon’s role was simply to sign off on the change to taking water from the Flint River, because of the size of the transaction. But Muchmore omitted the reason why Dillon was involved—a fact that also complicates his assignment of blame to the city. The switch to water from the Flint River occurred under the oversight of an emergency manager appointed by Snyder. Under a state law that Snyder signed, the governor can appoint a manager to take over cities in financial emergency.Prior to the switch, Flint had been preparing to move away from water provided by Detroit’s water service and toward a pipeline that would bring water directly from Lake Huron. (The city council did have a chance to weigh in on that change, and supported it 7-1.) But when Flint made the decision, the Detroit Water Services District announced it would terminate service to Flint a year later. That was legal under the contract, but it put Flint in a bad spot, since the new pipeline wasn’t going to be complete in a year. DWSD shrugged, saying Flint should have expected it. That’s how the emergency manager, Darnell Earley, ended up overseeing the switch to water from the Flint River. Flint residents and leaders blame Earley for the decision; Earley insists it was their idea. (Flint reconnected to Detroit water late last year, but there’s lasting damage to the pipes.)In any case, the final authority for the decision rested with Earley, the manager. That makes it jarring to see Muchmore write, in the same email quoted above, that the state departments of Environmental Quality and Community Health complained that the water issue had become “a political football”
For one thing, it had become clear by the time of writing, in September 2015, that Flint’s water had dangerous levels of lead. The residents weren’t just angry because they saw a partisan gain—they were angry about brown and apparently tainted water coming out of their faucets. Meanwhile, their political representation had been directly curtailed by the appointment of the emergency manager who oversaw the switch. Officials in Lansing withdrew Flint’s power to govern itself, but when Flint begged Lansing for help, it was told that the problem was Flint’s alone.
End It Already — Charlie Pierce is fed up with the kids playing occupiers.
Enough is enough. I mean, really. It’s time for federal law enforcement to, you know, enforce federal law.
On the other end was an FBI negotiator who identified himself to Bundy only as “Chris.” And so opened talks between the leader of the refuge occupation and the federal agency in charge of bringing an end to the armed takeover, now in its third week. For nearly an hour around noontime, the negotiator listened to Bundy’s well-practiced litany of complaints against the federal government while probing for what it would take to end his occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge. They ended the call with the promise to talk again Friday.Isn’t that sweet?
The people of Harney County are fed up. The governor of Oregon is fed up. A group of armed jamokes—some of them with long criminal histories outside of the crimes they are committing at the moment—has seized federal property on federal land and the only people who seem sanguine about the whole business are the federal authorities. The thieves have been allowed to come and go fairly at will. They’ve been allowed to state their case at town meetings. And they’ve been allowed to return to the scene of their current crimes over and over again. Enough. If the FBI is still gun-shy about Ruby Ridge and about Waco, it has had enough chances to arrest these people without storming their winter clown encampment.
In sometimes highly personal remarks, speaker after speaker vented anger—at public officials, at the federal government and at the man in the brown cowboy hat sitting high in the bleachers to take it all in—Ammon Bundy. He and other armed militants on Jan. 2 seized the headquarters compound of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, situated 30 miles southeast of Burns. The refuge is managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He sat on the second row from the top as County Judge Steve Grasty, microphone in hand, strode to the foot of that bleacher section.”It is time for you to go home,” Grasty said to Bundy, vowing to meet with Bundy anytime, anyplace—outside of Harney County. A chant then grew in the gymnasium: “Go, go, go, go, go.” That was a message Bundy heard repeatedly through the evening, one he once vowed to heed. He sat expressionless, making no move to respond or to comment.
Can someone please explain to me why Ammon Bundy wasn’t arrested as he sat in the bleachers? Or on the way to the meeting? Or on the way back to the land he is attempting to steal from the rest of us? If the FBI had been this tender about people’s feelings throughout its history, John Dillinger would have died in his bed at the age of 103 and Fred Hampton might still be alive.
Nothing good can come of waiting these people out anymore. By their lights, they’ve already won, the way Ammon’s deadbeat father, Cliven, won when itinerant gunmen faced down lawful authority, an episode that led directly to the one in Oregon that already has gone on too long. (By the way, the elder Bundy is still a scofflaw who owes you and me $1 million.) And it’s important to remember that they are only the shiny object shock troops of a general conservative movement to destroy what’s left of the commons by taking over the public lands, especially in the West.
Outside of its 180-degree pivot on race, nothing demonstrates how far the Republican Party has strayed from its own history than its abandonment of its legacy as the party of conservation and the environment. The whole idea of preserving public lands for the people of the United States was a Republican idea, root and branch. Abraham Lincoln signed the legislation putting Yosemite under federal protection. The Antiquities Act was signed by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. For a century, the preservation of the public lands was as close to a bipartisan project as we’ve had. It outlasted McCarthyism and the turmoil of the 1960s and the backlash of the 1970s and even, to an extent, the rise of Ronald Reagan, in which the seeds of the current threat to public lands first were sown.
“Noises Off” Is Still On — Michael Shulman in The New Yorker on the undying appeal of the farce.
Wednesday afternoon; a British country home. The phone rings, and a housekeeper named Mrs. Clackett galumphs in from the servants’ quarters, carrying a plate of sardines. In a weary Cockney accent, she informs the caller that her employer is in Spain. His wife’s in Spain, too. She blanches. “Am I in Spain? No, I’m not in Spain, dear.” She hangs up and begins to leave, as her accent suddenly jumps up several socioeconomic notches and she mumbles to herself, “And I take the sardines. No, I leave the sardines. No, I take the sardines.”
If Mrs. Clackett seems like a stock character in a British comedy—the grouchy, bumbling maid—that’s because she is one. We are watching the dress rehearsal for a play called “Nothing On,” whose doomed tour through English towns like Ashton-under-Lyne and Stockton-on-Tees is the subject of “Noises Off,” Michael Frayn’s ingenious 1982 farce within a farce. A sort of theatrical turducken, the play has a lot to tell us about the comedy of chaos. Paradoxically, it only works when it runs like clockwork: everything has to go right for everything to go so wrong. Fortunately, the Roundabout’s revival, which just opened at the American Airlines Theatre, under the shipshape direction of Jeremy Herrin, nails nearly every slamming door, pants-around-the-ankles pratfall, and flung plate of sardines.
About those sardines: keep your eye on them. And on the telephone. And on the newspaper Mrs. Clackett can’t remember whether to take offstage. By magnifying the minutiae—props, cues, stuck doorknobs—Frayn blows up perhaps the most banal aspect of theatre-making to absurd proportions. Or, as Lloyd (Campbell Scott), the beleaguered director of “Nothing On,” puts it, “That’s what it’s all about. Doors and sardines. Getting on, getting off. Getting the sardines on, getting the sardines off. That’s farce. That’s the theatre. That’s life.” It’s not until we see every exit and entrance go absurdly, madly, hilariously askew that we begin to see his point. Viewed from a certain angle, life is about little things that can slip, crack, and slam in our faces.
Perhaps that’s why “Noises Off” is such a crowd-pleaser, frequently revived and frequently beloved. Over three acts, we follow the accident-prone actors as their missed cues and accumulating rivalries lead to catastrophe for “Nothing On” but hilarity for “Noises Off.” Sardines fly, cactuses are sat upon. Frayn gives each character just enough distinction to make the tomfoolery comprehensible. Dotty (the wonderful Andrea Martin), who plays the housekeeper, is a slumming grand dame. Brooke (Megan Hilty), who plays a blond bimbo, keeps losing her contact lenses. Selsdon (Daniel Davis) is a drunk. (The rest of the ace ensemble includes Jeremy Shamos, David Furr, and Kate Jennings Grant, as actors, and Tracee Chimo and Rob McClure, as hapless stagehands.) Likewise, the characters they play in “Nothing On” have only one or two quirks apiece. The point isn’t to delve into individual psychology but to marvel at the extremity of gracelessness, choreographed with meticulous grace.
Doonesbury — At a minimum.
Our Town premiered on this date in 1938. This is from the 1940 film with many of the original cast re-creating their roles on the screen. Music by Aaron Copland.
Here’s the other thing I’m doing this weekend: the 4th annual South Florida One-Minute Play Festival. It will be at the Deering Estate at Cutler Saturday and Sunday.
The One-Minute Play Festival (#1MPF), America’s largest and longest running short form theatre company, founded by Producing Artist Director Dominic D’Andrea, features one-minute plays by over 50 established and emerging South Florida playwrights commissioned for this event.
The work attempts to reflect the theatrical landscape of local artistic communities by creating a dialogue between the collective conscious and the individual voice through a performance of many moments and includes responses to local topics such as immigration, government and culture.
Saturday, January 16, 2016
Tickets can be purchased online or by calling 305-235-1668 ext. 233.
Please note that the performances contain mature content. Recommended for ages 14 & older.
Sunday, January 17, 2016
3:00 pm – purchase tickets online
7:00 pm – purchase tickets online
Tickets can be purchased online above or by calling 305-235-1668 ext. 233.
Please note that the performances contain mature content. Recommended for ages 14 & older.
Once I’ve completed my car show duties I’ll be there tonight to see the two piece I have in it.
A great actor has made his exit. From the Globe and Mail:
Acclaimed British actor Brian Bedford, a Tony Award-winning mainstay of Broadway and Ontario’s Stratford Festival, has died.
The festival in Stratford, Ont., told The Canadian Press that Bedford died on Wednesday in Santa Barbara, Calif., after a 2 1/2-year battle with cancer. He was 80.
“The doctors were just astounded by his will to live,” said Ann Swerdfager, the festival’s publicity director.
Antoni Cimolino, the festival’s artistic director, said in a statement that “Brian Bedford was the prime reason I went into the theatre.”
Bedford had been ailing in recent years.
In early 2014, illness forced him to pull out of his role as the pope in a touring production of the Vatican mystery thriller “The Last Confession” that visited Toronto. It was a part he said he’d been “really looking forward” to, noting John Paul I was “a very, very sweet, modest, lovely person and I haven’t played that kind of part for a long, long time.”
In June 2013, he withdrew from his role as Shylock in “The Merchant of Venice” at the Stratford Festival due to “a medical condition.” He also missed shows during the festival’s 2011 season.
Bedford was a fixture in the southwestern Ontario community of Stratford, where he worked at the festival for 29 seasons, acting and directing.
In 2009, he brought down the house directing and starring (in full drag) as Lady Bracknell in the festival’s production of “The Importance of Being Earnest,” which moved to Broadway and earned him a 2011 Tony Award nomination for best actor. The production itself won a Tony for best costume design and was nominated for another for best revival of a play.
I saw the performance of “Earnest” at Stratford (my notes here) and thought it was one of the best plays I’d seen in all my years there.
He was a great actor, a fine director, and by all accounts, a very nice person.
It’s time for my annual re-cap and prognostication for the past year and the year coming up. Let’s see how I did a year ago.
– Now that we have a Republican House and Senate and a president who isn’t running for re-election, get out the popcorn, and I mean the good stuff. The GOP will try to do everything they can to destroy the legacy of Barack Obama, but they will end up looking even more foolish, petulant, infantile, and borderline nuts than they have for the last two years, and that’s saying something. Repeals of Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, and recharged attempts to investigate Benghazi!, the IRS, and the VA will be like the three rings of Barnum & Bailey, all of which President Obama will gleefully veto. As Zandar noted at Balloon Juice, “Over/under on when a Republican declares on FOX that Obama’s veto is “illegal”, Feb 8.”
They did all that except actually pass the bills for President Obama to veto. Instead they putsched John Boehner and replaced him with Paul Ryan who will more than likely face the same nutsery in 2016.
– Hillary Clinton will announce that she is running for president by March 2015 at the latest. Elizabeth Warren will not run, but Bernie Sanders, the Gene McCarthy of this generation, will announce as an independent and become a frequent guest on MSNBC. Jeb Bush, after “actively exploring” a run in 2016, will announce that he is running and quickly fade to the single digits when the GOP base gets a taste of his views on immigration and Common Core. He may be popular in Republican polls, but those people don’t vote in primaries. The frontrunners for the Iowa caucuses a year from now will be Rand Paul and Chris Christie.
Nailed that one except for the last sentence. But to be fair I don’t think anyone had Donald Trump on their betting sheets a year ago, and if they did, it was more for the entertainment value than serious consideration as a Republican candidate.
– The war in Afghanistan is officially over as of December 2014, but there will be U.S. troops actively engaged in combat in what is left of Syria and Iraq in 2015.
More’s the pity.
– The U.S. economy will continue to improve at a galloping pace. The Dow will hit 19,000 at some point in 2015 and oil will continue to flood the market, keeping the price below $60 a barrel and gasoline will sell for under $2 a gallon, and finally wages will start to catch up with the improving economy. I blame Obama.
Except for my overly-optimistic prediction on the Dow, this pretty much came true, even down to the price for gasoline: I paid $1.99 last night in Miami, which is not the lowest-priced city in the country. President Obama is not getting any credit whatsoever for helping the economy improve, which he should, but then the Republicans never blamed Bush for crashing it in the first place.
– The Supreme Court will rule that bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution. They will also narrowly uphold Obamacare again.
Happy dance, happy dance.
– The embargo against Cuba will end on a narrow vote in the Senate thanks to the overwhelming influence of Republican donors who see 11 million Cubans starving for Dunkin Donuts and car parts and don’t care what a bunch of domino-playing dreamers on Calle Ocho think.
The embargo is still in place as a matter of law, but for all intents and purposes, it is crumbling. U.S. airlines and cruise ships are setting schedules, direct mail service is resuming, and travel there has become routine.
– The Tigers will win their division again.
Oh, shut up.
– We will lose the requisite number of celebrities and friends as life goes on. As I always say, it’s important to cherish them while they are with us.
I hold them in the Light.
– I technically retired on September 1, 2014, but my last day at work will be August 30, 2019. (It’s complicated.) I’m planning a return trip to Stratford this summer — more on that later — and I’ll get more plays produced. I will finish at least one novel in 2015.
This was a productive year for me on the writing front: several plays of mine were done either in full stage productions or readings, and more are on the way. No, I did not finish a novel yet.
Now for the predictions for 2016:
Okay, it’s your turn. What do you see for 2016?
Some backstage photos from Wednesday night’s reading.
Photos by Nicole Quintana.
Miami Subs — Elizabeth Kolbert in The New Yorker on the rising tides on Miami Beach.
The city of Miami Beach floods on such a predictable basis that if, out of curiosity or sheer perversity, a person wants to she can plan a visit to coincide with an inundation. Knowing the tides would be high around the time of the “super blood moon,” in late September, I arranged to meet up with Hal Wanless, the chairman of the University of Miami’s geological-sciences department. Wanless, who is seventy-three, has spent nearly half a century studying how South Florida came into being. From this, he’s concluded that much of the region may have less than half a century more to go.
We had breakfast at a greasy spoon not far from Wanless’s office, then set off across the MacArthur Causeway. (Out-of-towners often assume that Miami Beach is part of Miami, but it’s situated on a separate island, a few miles off the coast.) It was a hot, breathless day, with a brilliant blue sky. Wanless turned onto a side street, and soon we were confronting a pond-sized puddle. Water gushed down the road and into an underground garage. We stopped in front of a four-story apartment building, which was surrounded by a groomed lawn. Water seemed to be bubbling out of the turf. Wanless took off his shoes and socks and pulled on a pair of polypropylene booties. As he stepped out of the car, a woman rushed over. She asked if he worked for the city. He said he did not, an answer that seemed to disappoint but not deter her. She gestured at a palm tree that was sticking out of the drowned grass.
“Look at our yard, at the landscaping,” she said. “That palm tree was super-expensive.” She went on, “It’s crazy—this is saltwater.”
“Welcome to rising sea levels,” Wanless told her.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, sea levels could rise by more than three feet by the end of this century. The United States Army Corps of Engineers projects that they could rise by as much as five feet; the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts up to six and a half feet. According to Wanless, all these projections are probably low. In his office, Wanless keeps a jar of meltwater he collected from the Greenland ice sheet. He likes to point out that there is plenty more where that came from.
“Many geologists, we’re looking at the possibility of a ten-to-thirty-foot range by the end of the century,” he told me.
We got back into the car. Driving with one hand, Wanless shot pictures out the window with the other. “Look at that,” he said. “Oh, my gosh!” We’d come to a neighborhood of multimillion-dollar homes where the water was creeping under the security gates and up the driveways. Porsches and Mercedeses sat flooded up to their chassis.
“This is today, you know,” Wanless said. “This isn’t with two feet of sea-level rise.” He wanted to get better photos, and pulled over onto another side street. He handed me the camera so that I could take a picture of him standing in the middle of the submerged road. Wanless stretched out his arms, like a magician who’d just conjured a rabbit. Some workmen came bouncing along in the back of a pickup. Every few feet, they stuck a depth gauge into the water. A truck from the Miami Beach Public Works Department pulled up. The driver asked if we had called City Hall. Apparently, one of the residents of the street had mistaken the high tide for a water-main break. As we were chatting with him, an elderly woman leaning on a walker rounded the corner. She looked at the lake the street had become and wailed, “What am I supposed to do?” The men in the pickup truck agreed to take her home. They folded up her walker and hoisted her into the cab.
To cope with its recurrent flooding, Miami Beach has already spent something like a hundred million dollars. It is planning on spending several hundred million more. Such efforts are, in Wanless’s view, so much money down the drain. Sooner or later—and probably sooner—the city will have too much water to deal with. Even before that happens, Wanless believes, insurers will stop selling policies on the luxury condos that line Biscayne Bay. Banks will stop writing mortgages.
“If we don’t plan for this,” he told me, once we were in the car again, driving toward the Fontainebleau hotel, “these are the new Okies.” I tried to imagine Ma and Pa Joad heading north, their golf bags and espresso machine strapped to the Range Rover.
Frontier Gibberish — Charlie Pierce on the poll results of GOP voter
To paraphrase The Master, data don’t talk, they swear. And the latest from PPP is cursing up a storm.
OK, I think it’s hilarious, too, that 30 percent of Republican primary voters want to bomb Aladdin’s hometown. More startling to me are the following:
1) That Marco Rubio’s unfavorable numbers are exactly the same (34 percent) as Donald Trump’s. Which makes Rubio seven points more unpopular than Ted Cruz, whom nobody likes except his mother, and she could be jiving, too. And that, in a head-to-head hypothetical, Cruz crushes Rubio, 48 percent to 34. Xenophobes have long memories, Marco.
2) That 80 percent of Republican primary voters favor banning gun sales to people on the no-fly list, not that it will matter.
3) That 46 percent of them want a database kept of all Muslims in America.
4) That just as many of them believe that Muslims danced on rooftops on 9/11 as do not believe that this thing that didn’t happen didn’t happen.
There isn’t much I can say that wasn’t said better by the citizens of Rock Ridge.
Fifty Years of “Fiddler” — Eric Grode of the New York Times gathers recollections of the legendary musical as it is revived yet again on Broadway.
So many Velcro-affixed bottles. So many fake beards (plus a few real ones). And so, so many daughters. As the sun rises Sunday, Dec. 20, on the latest Broadway “Fiddler on the Roof” revival, this one starring Danny Burstein as the beleaguered milkman Tevye, we look back at 51 years in Anatevka. The original leading man (Zero Mostel) and director (Jerome Robbins) were often barely on speaking terms, but that 1964 Harold Prince production went on to a record-setting run. We asked veterans of that “Fiddler” and of the incalculable number of professional, amateur and student productions that followed to recall their experiences. Here are edited excerpts.
Replacement Tevye in the 2004 Broadway revival
I grew up in New York, and my mom was very culturally minded. Theater tickets were $2 for the balcony in 1964, and my mom would often buy four tickets in the front row of the balcony for her, my father, me and my brother. One day, the curtain went up — and it was a stage full of Jews. My life was never the same after that.
Replacement Hodel in the original production
I had sent my photo and résumé to Shirley Rich, who was Hal Prince’s casting director, and I got a call one Friday to come in the following Tuesday for what was an absolutely grueling four-hour audition. I was auditioning against the woman who was understudying the role at the time, but I remember getting this psychic message from my grandmother, who had survived the Armenian genocide, that I would get it. And I got it!
Replacement Tzeitel in the original production
Maria Karnilova, who played Golde, was the most brilliant actress I have ever seen. I watched her every night in the wings and could never figure out how she did it. But the person who showed me the most kindness was Joanna Merlin, who was the original Tzeitel, who suggested me to replace her when she left. (The second time. It’s a long story!)
It was a perfect storm of talent, and universal themes: the pull of tradition and family, the struggle to retain your human dignity in the face of terrible odds. And of course, everyone knows a Yente, even if they’re not Jewish.
Replacement Sima in the original production
At the five-minute call, Adrienne Barbeau and Bette Midler and I would meet in the enclosed house onstage and sing ’50s and ’60s songs to warm up.
Tevye at Los Angeles County High School for the Arts
I was a late bloomer, and I still couldn’t grow a beard, even in 12th grade, so I had to wear the fake beard and glue it onto my face every night. I just had the best time. I’m not a good dancer, so a lot of the moves for Tevye were right in my wheelhouse, just kind of dramatically, sluggishly moving. It’s a wonderful memory, because it was the first time that I really felt I fit in.
Tevye in the current revival
In 1986, I believe, I was lucky enough to be in a production with the great Theodore Bikel. I played Mendel, the rabbi’s son. It was especially memorable to me, because it was directed by Sheldon Harnick’s brilliant brother, Jay Harnick. Jay gave me one of the greatest pieces of direction I’ve ever gotten. I was playing Mendel for laughs. He wanted it real. He pulled me aside and said with a warm smile, “Danny, dare to be disliked.” In other words, play the show. Tell the story — and the story isn’t always about you.
Michael Cyril Creighton
Ensemble at St. Anthony’s High School in South Huntington, N.Y.
I went to Catholic high school, so naturally I played a young Jewish boy in the chorus. Admittedly, I was pretty bummed I didn’t get to glue on a beard. They did, however, make up my face for the back of the auditorium: chestnut brown eye shadow with white highlights. I found it difficult to keep my clip on Hasidic curls in place while alternating my arms and legs during “Tradition.” And while quite a few curls ended up on that stage floor during the run, boy, did my eyes pop. In the current production I believe my roles are being played by a small woman.
Doonesbury — Misplaced modifier.
One of the best things a playwright can say about seeing his work performed is “That’s what I meant.” The actors understand the characters and convey them authentically to the audience.
That was what I felt last night as I watched the reading of my new play “All Together Now” at Mina’s Mediterraneo in Miami, sponsored by New Theatre. Thank you, Kenneth Averett-Clark, Carlos Alayeto, Jonathan Mitzenmacher, Joel Kolker, Joanne Marsic, and Nicole Quintana for bringing Paul, Adam, Fox, Jim, Dorothy, and Julie to life, and thank you, Steven A. Chambers and Erik Rodriguez for guiding the play with love and care.
Also thank you to Ricky J. Martinez and Eileen Suarez for making it all happen. I am very grateful for such strong support and genuine love for theatre and making new works happen, and I look forward to going forward with you all.
The reading went very well. I was blessed with a great cast and directors who really understood the characters. Thank you everyone.
It’s about three hours past my bedtime as I write this and I still have to go to work in the morning, so there won’t be the usual early-rising posts. I’ll catch up with you later.
Best wishes to the cast and crew on opening night of The Pirates of Penzance under the brilliant direction of the Old Professor.
Now What? — Suzy Khimm in The New Republic on where the Religious Right goes now.
It’s been a rough stretch lately for Christian social conservatives, whose nightmare came to life this past summer with the Supreme Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage in Obergefell vs. Hodges. But the annual Values Voter Summit kicked off this past weekend in Washington with shouts of jubilation, as activists celebrated the unexpected news that House Speaker John Boehner would be resigning amid the fight over social conservatives’ effort to defund Planned Parenthood or force a government shutdown. “Yes!” one man shouted above the deafening cheers and applause on Friday morning after Senator Marco Rubio interrupted his address to announce Boehner’s exit from the podium. “Amen!” shouted another.
Later, on Friday evening, another packed room at the Omni Shoreham would erupt once again when Kim Davis, the defiant country clerk from Kentucky, took the stage to accept an award for refusing to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. “I am only one,” Davis told the crowd in her brief remarks, her voice rising to a shout. “But we are many!”
It was a pent-up primal scream that these Christian culture-warriors have long been waiting to unleash. While these triumphal moments may have been fleeting—Boehner almost surely won’t be replaced as speaker by a hardcore social conservative, and Davis’s stand has done nothing concrete to advance the cause of religious liberties—the urge to cheer for something was easy to understand; right about now, evangelicals will take whatever victories they can get. Ever since the religious right’s political power arguably peaked in 2004, when President George W. Bush and Karl Rove made gay-marriage bans a centerpiece of their re-election strategy, social conservatives have watched helplessly as their “family values” agenda fizzled, as the tide increasingly swam against them on gay marriage, and as Tea Partiers replaced them as the most coveted constituency for Republican candidates to court. While they’ve had great success in enacting abortion restrictions in many states, they’ve seen popular support for much of their once-ambitious policy agenda erode.
Despite the hallelujahs, what this year’s summit ended up highlighting was not the resurgent power of Christian conservatives in the Republican Party, but how much their influence on the policy debate has diminished outside of the issue of abortion. As usual, most of the major GOP presidential contenders—even the unlikely figure of Donald Trump—came courting the crowd of 2,700 who’d registered for the event. But they offered little besides effusive praise for Kim Davis and utterly vague—if not utterly unrealistic—promises to champion religious liberties in the White House. When the summit-goers left Washington to scatter back to their hometowns across America, they left with no clear idea of what to fight for next on gay marriage—or how.
Get To Know Jorge Ramos — William Finnegan at The New Yorker profiles the Univision anchor and best-known journalist you’ve never heard of.
When Jorge Ramos travels in Middle America, nobody recognizes him—until somebody does. Ramos is the evening-news co-anchor on Univision, the country’s largest Spanish-language TV network, a job he has held since 1986. A few weeks ago, I was on a flight with him from Chicago to Dubuque. Ramos, who is fifty-seven, is slim, not tall, with white hair and an unassuming demeanor. Wearing jeans, a gray sports coat, and a blue open-collared shirt, he went unremarked. But then, as he disembarked, a fellow-passenger, a stranger in her thirties, drew him aside at the terminal gate, speaking rapidly in Spanish. Ramos bowed his head to listen. The woman was a teacher at a local technical college. Things in this part of Iowa were bad, she said. People were afraid to leave their houses. When they went to Walmart, they only felt comfortable going at night. Ramos nodded. Her voice was urgent. She wiped her eyes. He held her arm while she composed herself. The woman thanked him and rushed away.
“Did you hear that?” he asked, at the car-rental counter. “They only go out to Walmart at night.”
In an Italian restaurant on a sleepy corner in downtown Dubuque, a dishwasher came out from the kitchen toward the end of lunch to pay her respects. She, too, fought back tears as she thanked Ramos for his work. He asked her how long she had been in Iowa. Five years, she said. She was from Hidalgo, not far from Mexico City, Ramos’s home town. She hurried back to the kitchen.
“We have almost no political representation,” Ramos said. He meant Latinos in the United States. “Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz won’t defend the undocumented.”
“A Country for All,” Ramos’s most recent book—he has published eleven—is dedicated to “all undocumented immigrants.” He was trying to explain how a journalist finds himself in the role of advocate.
“We’re a young community,” he said. “You wouldn’t expect ABC, or any of the mainstream networks, to take a position on immigration, health care, anything. But at Univision it’s different. We are pro-immigrant. That’s our audience, and people depend on us. When we are better represented politically, that role for us will recede.”
Besides co-anchoring the nightly news, and cranking out books, Ramos hosts a Sunday-morning public-affairs show, “Al Punto” (“To the Point”), and writes a syndicated column; for the past two years, he has also hosted a weekly news-magazine show, “America with Jorge Ramos,” in English, on a fledgling network (a joint venture of Univision and ABC) called Fusion. (When Jon Stewart asked him, on “The Daily Show,” to account for his hyperactivity, Ramos said, “I’m an immigrant. So I just need to get a lot of jobs.”) His English is fluent, if strongly accented. His Spanish, particularly on-air, is carefully neutral—pan-Latino, not noticeably Mexican. Univision’s audience comes from many different countries, and the network broadcasts from Miami, where the most common form of Spanish is Cuban.
Ramos occupies a peculiar place in the American news media. He has won eight Emmys and an armload of journalism awards, covered every major story since the fall of the Berlin Wall, and interviewed every American President since George H. W. Bush. (He’s interviewed Barack Obama half a dozen times.) But his affiliation can work against him. In June, when he sent a handwritten letter to Donald Trump, who had just launched his Presidential campaign, requesting an interview, it was no dice. Univision had cut its business ties with Trump, including its telecasts of the Miss U.S.A. and Miss Universe beauty pageants, after Trump accused Mexico of sending “rapists” to the United States. Trump posted Ramos’s letter on Instagram, crowing that Univision was “begging” him for interviews. The letter included Ramos’s personal cell-phone number, which Ramos was then obliged to change. In the weeks that followed, Trump produced a stream of provocative remarks and proposals about Mexicans and immigration, giving the national immigration-policy debate the hardest edge it has had in generations. Now Ramos really wanted to interview him.
Signs Of The Times — Michael Paulson in the New York Times on the revival of the musical “Spring Awakening” with deaf actors.
Staging a Broadway show is always a three-dimensional chess game. But this “Spring Awakening,” which uses eight deaf actors, eight hearing actors and seven onstage musicians, has added another layer of complexity and sparked a burst of theatrical innovation.
Musicals, after all, are built around sound, and ordinarily it is a beat, a lyric or a spoken phrase that signals to an actor when to walk on or walk off, when to begin a speech or a song, when to start a step. But for this “Spring Awakening,” the director Michael Arden, the choreographer Spencer Liff and the actors themselves have devised an array of silent cues: hidden lights, coded gestures, timed touches and prompting props.
“Spring Awakening,” a darkly tragic drama about adolescent sexuality in a repressive community, was written as a play by Frank Wedekind in 1891, and then adapted into a rock musical by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik in 2006. The adaptation was a hit on Broadway — it won eight Tony awards, including for best new musical, provided starmaking roles to Lea Michele (“Glee”), Jonathan Groff (“Hamilton”) and John Gallagher Jr. (“American Idiot”), and ran for just over two years.
Mr. Arden, who has been collaborating with the Los Angeles troupe Deaf West Theater since appearing in their Broadway revival of “Big River” in 2003, thought that “Spring Awakening,” which he viewed as “a cautionary tale about the perils of miscommunication,” would have great resonance with a deaf cast. Both “Big River” and this “Spring Awakening” had two productions in Los Angeles before transferring to Broadway.
Without altering the Sater-Sheik book or lyrics, Mr. Arden has added a new context for the story. The deaf actors portray deaf students in a school that does not allow the use of sign language, implicitly nodding to a historical event (contemporaneous with the play’s setting in late 19th-century Germany) in which an international conference of educators called for the mandatory and exclusive use of oralism (lip reading and speech) when teaching deaf students.
In one scene, a teacher, played by Patrick Page, can be seen threatening students who use sign language, attempting to train the deaf to speak by having them feel, and then mimic, the movement of his mouth and throat, and by having them watch the impact of vocalizations on a feather held in front of the face.
In this “Spring Awakening,” which opened to good reviews on Sept. 27, the deaf actors are at the center: Mr. Arden has asked the cast, and is now expecting audiences, to focus attention on the signing, not the singing. The deaf actors are often downstage and lighted from the front; their hearing partners are generally lighted from behind, and in ensemble numbers the cast members look toward the signers.
“It is highly important that the performance is the deaf actors’, and the hearing actors are following their intention — we get in trouble if we get ahead of them,” said the actress Camryn Manheim, a onetime sign language interpreter who is making her Broadway debut playing several adult women in the show.
Doonesbury — Bigfooting.
Mission Accomplished — Tom Englehardt in The Nation on what Osama bin Laden got for his attacks.
Fourteen years of wars, interventions, assassinations, torture, kidnappings, black sites, the growth of the American national security state to monumental proportions, and the spread of Islamic extremism across much of the Greater Middle East and Africa. Fourteen years of astronomical expense, bombing campaigns galore, and a military-first foreign policy of repeated defeats, disappointments, and disasters. Fourteen years of a culture of fear in America, of endless alarms and warnings, as well as dire predictions of terrorist attacks. Fourteen years of the burial of American democracy (or rather its recreation as a billionaire’s playground and a source of spectacle and entertainment but not governance). Fourteen years of the spread of secrecy, the classification of every document in sight, the fierce prosecution of whistleblowers, and a faith-based urge to keep Americans “secure” by leaving them in the dark about what their government is doing. Fourteen years of the demobilization of the citizenry. Fourteen years of the rise of the warrior corporation, the transformation of war and intelligence gathering into profit-making activities, and the flocking of countless private contractors to the Pentagon, the NSA, the CIA, and too many other parts of the national security state to keep track of. Fourteen years of our wars coming home in the form of PTSD, the militarization of the police, and the spread of war-zone technology like drones and stingrays to the “homeland.” Fourteen years of that un-American word “homeland.” Fourteen years of the expansion of surveillance of every kind and of the development of a global surveillance system whose reach—from foreign leaders to tribal groups in the backlands of the planet—would have stunned those running the totalitarian states of the twentieth century. Fourteen years of the financial starvation of America’s infrastructure and still not a single mile of high-speed rail built anywhere in the country. Fourteen years in which to launch Afghan War 2.0, Iraq Wars 2.0 and 3.0, and Syria War 1.0. Fourteen years, that is, of the improbable made probable.
Fourteen years later, thanks a heap, Osama bin Laden. With a small number of supporters, $400,000-$500,000, and 19 suicidal hijackers, most of them Saudis, you pulled off a geopolitical magic trick of the first order. Think of it as wizardry from the theater of darkness. In the process, you did “change everything” or at least enough of everything to matter. Or rather, you goaded us into doing what you had neither the resources nor the ability to do. So let’s give credit where it’s due. Psychologically speaking, the 9/11 attacks represented precision targeting of a kind American leaders would only dream of in the years to follow. I have no idea how, but you clearly understood us so much better than we understood you or, for that matter, ourselves. You knew just which buttons of ours to push so that we would essentially carry out the rest of your plan for you. While you sat back and waited in Abbottabad, we followed the blueprints for your dreams and desires as if you had planned it and, in the process, made the world a significantly different (and significantly grimmer) place.
Fourteen years later, we don’t even grasp what we did.
Don’t Do It, Joe — Charlie Pierce on why Joe Biden shouldn’t run.
Watching Vice President Joe Biden’s appearance on Stephen Colbert’s new joint on Thursday night was like watching a man having his blood drawn with a turkey baster, one drop at a time. This is a guy who already had more tragedy than a merciful god would have allowed and that was before his son, Beau, died earlier this year. Of course, the man broke down. The wonder is that he ever gets out of bed in the morning. What he should do is continue as best he can to be the finest vice-president of my lifetime. What he should not do in his current state of emotional turmoil is run for president.
Leave aside the inescapable fact of political gravity that, as soon as he announces, his numbers begin to slide. Leave aside that his record as a senator is not exactly a progressive’s dream, and the only way to campaign effectively against Hillary Rodham Clinton is to come at her from the left, as Bernie Sanders has shown, and as Jim Webb has demonstrated from the other direction through his functional invisibility. Leave aside the fact that he’s tried it twice already and been crushed both times, once by Michael Dukakis, which ought to give anyone pause. Leave aside the fact that the whole boomlet thing seems to be the product of staffers, in Washington and in Delaware, who still see him as their last main chance. Those people are vampires.
But leave all that aside. Joe Biden shouldn’t run for president because he shouldn’t do it to himself. He has earned a unique place in the country’s heart, which is a far warmer place for him as a human being than shivering in some cornfield outside Ottumwa in the cold winter winds. A presidential campaign is a soulless mechanism designed to grind the human spirit into easily digestible nuggets. Moments of profound personal pain and loss are as unavoidable as are concussions in the NFL. It was almost unbearable to watch him speak of his son’s death even to someone as profoundly compassionate as Colbert. I would hate to see him coin that grief into political currency, or fashion it into a portion of a stump speech that would become banal the second time it was delivered. I think, at some level, he would come to hate himself for having to do that. It’s not that I wouldn’t vote for Joe Biden, though I probably wouldn’t. It’s that I don’t want to see him hurt any more.
Revival — Ben Brantley of The New York Times on bringing back familiar shows in new productions.
So you think you’ve seen it all before — and recently, too.
I was of your mind once. Time was when looking at the schedule of a new theater season in New York would bring on a blinding déjà vu headache that threatened to send me to bed. “Not that show again,” I would think. “Didn’t I just see it a couple of years ago? Is there truly nothing new under the neon of the Rialto?”
If I were still trapped in that unenlightened state, you’d find me grousing myself hoarse about the roster of productions awaiting me on and off Broadway during the next year. Here come two more editions of Arthur Miller classics, “A View From the Bridge” (the last one was only five years ago!) and “The Crucible” (seen 13 years ago); and another couple of starry versions of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” (12 years ago) and Tennessee Williams’s “A Streetcar Named Desire” (three and six years ago).
And what’s this? “Fiddler on the Roof” redux. (The last revival of this beloved shtetl musical closed in 2006). And “Noises Off” and “The Gin Game” and heck, even, “The Color Purple,” a musical that completed its initial two-and-a-half year Broadway run in 2008. This new century is still relatively young. Shouldn’t there be a moratorium on bringing back shows that have already had 21st-century outings until, say, 2020?
But having read a lot recently about how negativity is bad for your health, I am determined to put a happier face on this season of wall-to-wall recycling. My new code of behavior — and I hope you’ll subscribe to it, too — is all about how to stop worrying and love the revivals.
First of all, if you’re a theater geek like me, you’ve no doubt spent hours playing the imaginary casting game with like-minded friends. Sometimes this is an exercise in silliness. (“What if Kim and Kanye did ‘Private Lives’?” or, “How about Donald Trump as Sweeney Todd?”) On other occasions, the speculation is whimsical but not entirely beyond belief. (“Think of Tina Fey and Jimmy Fallon as Beatrice and Benedick in ‘Much Ado About Nothing,’ ” or maybe, “Can’t you see Taylor Swift headlining ‘Sweet Charity’?”)
But such musings are rooted in the awareness that as familiar as some of them may be, good plays are endlessly mutable entities, which take on entirely new shapes according to who is appearing in, directing and designing them. And when I think about it honestly, I have to say I wouldn’t have missed any of the many, many Hamlets and Hedda Gablers and Vanyas and Prince Hals and Momma Roses and Sally Bowleses I’ve seen over the years.
That’s because if the play or musical is good enough, any production of it — even a misfire — is going to be illuminating in some way. Seeing the gap between miscast performers and their parts may be painful. But you can also read a lot about the playwright’s intentions, and your perception of the play, within that gap.
True enough, but it’s also important to give new plays — and playwrights — the chance to get their work done so they too can enjoy being revived five years later.
Doonesbury — Trendsetting.
Miami 1-Acts is this weekend: Saturday and Sunday at the Main Street Theatre in Miami Lakes. Two programs of one-acts, with my play in Program B: Saturday at 8:30, Sunday at 1:00. See you there.
Things are running a bit slow here this morning because I was up very late — for me — last night. It was the first read-through and rehearsal of my ten-minute play Which Way To The Beach which will be produced as part of the Miami New Stages Festival on Saturday, September 12 and Sunday, September 13.
Rehearsal started at 7:00 last night up in Sunrise, which is west of Fort Lauderdale, and we wrapped up around 9:30. I had an hour’s drive home, getting me back here way after my bedtime.
But it was worth it. We have a great cast, a fine director, and I’m excited to be a part of a thriving theatre community. There will be time to sleep this weekend.