Sunday, April 23, 2006

Sunday Reading – Theatre Edition

William Inge – 1913-1973

  • The 25th Annual William Inge Theatre Festival kicks off this Wednesday in Inge’s hometown of Independence, Kansas, and I will be making my annual pilgrimage — my fifteenth — to join in the fun.

    Who would have thought that 25 years ago, a little one-day Festival would have grown into an international event. Here’s the recipe we’ve cooked up this year: instead of honoring a single playwright, we are celebrating all 26 of our past honorees and holding a playwright’s reunion with many of our past playwrights returning to join the celebration. When we throw in a whole bunch of our favorite special guests and scholars; a heaping spoonful of the Inge family and friends; a dash of our wonderfully hospitable volunteers; and top it off with more than a pinch of that famous Independence Hospitality; we stir-fry the ingredients for four incredible days and we serve up one spectacular theatre experience!

    It’s not too late to participate, and if you’re within driving distance of Independence — which is 75 miles north of Tulsa, Oklahoma — it would be great to see you there.

  • There have been a couple of notable openings on the stage, including Julia Roberts starring in a production of Three Days of Rain, and Lynn Redgrave starring as Lady Bracknell in The Importance of Being Earnest. Ben Brantley does everything he can to be nice to Ms. Roberts, but…. And as much as I love Lynn Redgrave, and as capable an actor she is, I still cannot think of anyone doing a better job of playing Lady Bracknell than William Hutt did at Stratford, Ontario. After all, it is one of the greatest drag roles of all time, and the only one who could possibly top Mr. Hutt is Max von Sydow.
  • Meanwhile here in Miami, a local theatre with a long history of producing great theatre is in trouble.

    Arnold Mittelman, the powerful producing artistic director of the Coconut Grove Playhouse for the past 21 years, was asked Friday to resign by the theater’s board of directors amid a financial crisis that threatens the historic theater’s future.

    Three members of the board — Susan Fox-Rosellini, Lynn Martenstein and Michael Chavies — met with Mittelman at the theater Friday morning to convey the board’s request, giving him until Monday to make a decision.

    The effort to unseat Mittelman came just hours before Sonia Flew, a drama that could become the final production under Mittelman’s artistic leadership, had its first performance in front of an audience. Technical and financial issues had already forced the cancellation of all previews and sharply cut its planned three-week run.

    Board Chairwoman Shelly Spivack confirmed that the decision to ask for Mittelman’s resignation was made Thursday during a conference call in which most board members participated. She would not reveal why the board asked for his resignation, but another board member who asked to not be quoted said the issue involves questions over his handling of finances and expenses.

    The board is to meet again on Wednesday and, should Mittelman decline to resign, it would have to decide whether to fire him. It was unclear late Friday whether a board majority would support his dismissal, should he reject the call to resign.

    Mittelman — who has a contract that, according to the most recent filings with the IRS, pays him $190,000 a year, plus $14,000 in benefits and deferred compensation, and a $17,140 expense allowance — introduced Friday night’s performance of Sonia Flew. Afterward, he sat at the back of the packed theater.

    The play, starring Lucie Arnaz, received a standing ovation from the audience.

    The Grove is a historic landmark in South Florida; for years it was a stop on the winter stock circuit, and when I was an undergrad at Miami in the early 1970’s a Who’s Who of American theatre trouped through — and often gave lectures and master classes for us in the Drama Department. I remember seeing such luminaries as Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Mickey Rooney, Eva Marie Saint, Ronny Cox, James Daly, and Celeste Holm, and we even got to put on our 1972 production of Fiddler on the Roof there as a fund-raiser for our new Friends of the Theatre program at the University of Miami. More recently is has served as a try-out theatre for productions like The Chosen starring Theodore Bikel and John Lloyd Young. I hope they find a way to hang in there — Miami doesn’t need to lose another theatre.

  • Speaking of theatre in Miami, I’m off this afternoon to see the final production of the season at the University of Miami’s Jerry Herman Ring Theatre. It’s The Music Man, one of my favorite shows.
  • On this date in 1564 William Shakespeare was born. He died exactly 52 years later in 1616.


    – Shakespeare’s epitaph.

    R.I.P. thou upstart crow.