(Charles Isherwood’s article appeared in The New York Times, 7/25; via Pam Green.)

“So much precious time goes by and it seems to me I get so little out of it,” Elia Kazan wrote to John Steinbeck in 1955. “I ask myself is this it? Is this why? Is this what I wanted to do? Is this why I accumulated what dough I have. I feel like a highly publicized meal ticket, some of the time, doing what the hell my wife and family and society expects of me and not at all — since I dont think originally enough — what I’d like to do. I can imagine great excitement to life again. But something prevents my going after it.”

Kazan’s sense of feeling aimless and artistically spent was rare for this relentless achiever, but certainly understandable. The letter was written when he was 45, midway through a life that would span almost another half-century. (He died in 2003.) But by this juncture Kazan had already amassed a momentous body of work in theater and film that testifies to his unstoppable drive and restless energy, qualities that spring from almost every page of “The Selected Letters of Elia Kazan,” a meaty volume edited by Albert J. Devlin with Marlene J. Devlin. (That “dont,” by the way, was Kazan’s: He couldn’t be bothered with properly punctuating contractions most of the time, as if life were too short for apostrophes.)

Having joined the Group Theater in 1933, he played a role in the company’s galvanizing production of Clifford Odets’s “Waiting for Lefty” before pushing to become a director when he realized he didn’t have the stuff of acting greatness in him. His breakthrough came with Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth” in 1942, which was followed by his collaborations with Tennessee Williams on “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 1947 and Arthur Miller on “Death of a Salesman” in 1949 — two central pillars of American drama in the 20th century. Although he excoriates Hollywood bluntly throughout the letters (“Everybody has everything, except what is really worth living for”), by the mid-1950s he had directed “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “On the Waterfront” (collecting Oscars for both) as well as the movie of “Streetcar.” And those are just the highlights. Did I mention he also co-founded the Actors Studio?

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(As discussed below, some of the text for this review, of a play  at Shakespeare in the Park, was only posted overnight, two years ago.)


The four young women, who are watching As You Like It, are from Mainland China.  They do not know that the previous Wednesday, a press assistant, from the Public Theater, had asked me to take down my blog notes regarding the production. The request rattled me, as I was surprised anyone had even read it—I had gone to the play on June 9, 2012 and was directed to take down the post on June 13--almost as soon as it was published.  I e-mailed back, “Hi, it's Bob,” blood pulsing and hurriedly making a typo, “I waited in line just like everyone else without special consideration from your press office.  I am simply acting as a citizen journalist. . . .” I did comply with the request, however, in deference to a reviewer’s embargo until June 21, and the fragments were withdrawn from the Web site.  Then, the following day,  from a separate press person, at a different agency, an invitation appeared in my in-box—a new play was offered for me and a friend to attend, also directed by Daniel Sullivan and starring John Lithgow.

Sitting on the forest-green benches, near the Romeo and Juliet statue, outside of the Delacorte, waiting to chaperone the young women back to their dorm after the play is over, I am listening to Steve Martin’s music, being played live. I imagine that it has been shortened, so that Orlando (David Furr) can vent his frustration to the servant, Adam (MacIntyre Dixon), earlier.  Later, when two members of the backstage crew sit near me to discuss work schedules and one smokes, it has become very dark; I wonder if the actress Lily Rabe, as Rosalind, is less mannered with Orlando than I saw her (ultimately, her reviews—as well as that of the entire production--from the New York press will be excellent; but we did not know this at the time).  I was not the only one who thought the show needed salvaging on the second night of the run, either.  A youthful couple clearly couldn’t concentrate, their hands feeling each other up, however tentatively, in the row in front of ours (it did not make me comfortable that my fifteen-year-old daughter was sitting beside me).  Then, before abruptly leaving at intermission, a woman with a loud, heavy, monotone accent cell-phones a friend, protesting, “It’s not Shakespeare; it’s boring.”  My notes pick up:

As You Like It has been called tedious previously by no less a critic than Janet Flanner and a host of high school and college students throughout the centuries, but, as Joyce Henry, Ph.D.—an old teacher and collaborator, now diceased--has written, it is “a romantic comedy with memorable speeches and, of course, the wonderful Rosalind” . . . The leading character herself says her way is to “conjure you,” and the forest offers scenic possibilities; the script references magic—yet why is there so little beside Belvedere Castle?  . . . Maybe it’s because of the lack of contrast between the “pompous” court (poisoned civilization) and the Forest of Arden (where the banished find ‘tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, Sermons in stones, and good in every thing’).”  The hoe-down clap-alongs of the current production also fail to gain momentum, despite a rousing start.

Of course, as we sat in our newly forming English class, the Hudson flowing serenely outside our windows, at the College of Mount Saint Vincent in the Bronx, I did not hesitate to suggest to the four young Chinese women that they might see an American Shakespeare production—they are students from BNUZ, Beijing Normal University Zhuhai—located in Zhuhai city, Guangdong Province in southeastern China.  This is why they don’t mind the heat, they tell me.  Temperatures in Central Park by 1:30, on the afternoon of June 21, reach 97 degrees.  My daughter and I had left the Bronx just after 7:00am to come to the Park—at 1:00 we each receive two tickets, which, because we have already seen the play, would be transferred to the students (my daughter quickly showed me how to text one of the women, as the Express Bus arrives at the Museum of Natural History, so she can go to work). At 5:30pm, when the young women—all business majors, and one more powerfully built, stockier than the others--arrive together via subway, they take pictures on the great lawn, with the digital cameras in their phones. We also go to the steps of the Metropolitan Museum, and weave through an outside party, with tiny overhanging lights.  This has been given to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Shakespeare in the Park, as well as the opening night of As You Like It. As the Chinese students enter the gates to take their seats, I ask an American intern, acting as an usher, to help them.  But, in the way someone commiserates with a person who has just gotten on a wrong train, she simply says, “They’ll find them.”    

My notes continue:  “Director Daniel Sullivan reverses the play’s oppositions . . . Here, the culture of his periled, “envious” court is “new”--he sets his interpretation among American pioneers in the 1800s and their log fort . . . In the forest, he doesn’t emphasize the majestic; instead the country copulation.  The Appalachian reference worked so well in Fiasco Theater’s recent production of Cymbeline because it underscored the isolation of Wales in an American context . . . the court in As You Like It does not call for being similarly sequestered . . . the music played by the performers from Fiasco did not seem as commercial either, which is, unfortunately, what Steve Martin’s repetitive TV music sounds like here--it either seems to come from The Beverly Hillbillies or intends to set us up for or take us out of a station break . . .  

The music: banjo, fiddle, and guitars, allow a too leisurely opening, swamping us when we need to move directly into Orlando’s passionate protest against his brother—David Furr isn’t aided by being staged to take wrestling winnings and then the life savings of an indentured servant  . . .  interesting to musicalize, later, “Run, Orlando, run, carve on every tree” and even, without Orlando, “the Horn,” but I do miss not hearing the poetry of the cut “Under the Greenwood Tree” . . . Like others who undertake the role of Orlando, Furr doesn’t seem to be playing the information in Rosalind’s line that she does not want to be wooed by a “post”—she wants a man of action . . .”

When the evening class begins composing their own reviews of As You Like It, Dorothea (the students use American names), whom my daughter and I had texted from near the museum on the twenty-first—and who acted as the group’s coordinator for that day, writes:  “As You Like It . . .  shows the importance of survival and determination. You can learn something from the plot because we all have to meet various kinds of difficulties in our daily lives. When we grow up, we need to get in touch with society. No matter what the difficulties are, we must keep going all the time.”

It occurred to me how far away from the American entertainment paradigm this young woman was. Her interest did not lie with popular culture—or even theatrical techniques.  Her imagination saw Arden as a place of hardship, social consequences, and powerful ideals, not escapism. “The outside world is full of struggle,” Dorothea cautions, “people are fascinated by money and power because people want to have a certain standing. Oliver wants to have more money so he takes away Orlando’s heritage. He finds a wrestler and instigates him to kill Orlando in order to obtain it. . . . Rosalind disguises herself as a boy because it is the only effective way to protect herself and her cousin. Rosalind is a lovely and beautiful girl, but she is disguised like a boy, so that she can keep living and going ahead. This spirit touches me and maybe we should learn from that.” 

Dorothea’s conclusion states, “Generally speaking, maybe different people will choose a different way to live, but we should struggle to live a better life. So stretch out your right hand, hold your left one firmly, tell yourself you are fully capable of doing everything well!”

American entertainment writing, comes from a homogenized point of view—we don’t expect the guillotine voice of a Frank Rich today (we accept the less opinionated writer and play).  This may be because producers want to see audiences as being the same, uninterested in what they do not know.  In theatre, which continuously veers acceptably to the left, there aren’t arguments of substance, so musicals, with and for children, dominate (Wicked, Annie, Matilda), as do shows with drag queens—allowably outrageous (Kinky Boots, La Cage, I Am My Own Wife).  We would likely be appalled if a play opened advocating gun ownership (but I’ve recently seen one against it) or prayer in school (although I’ve seen a show refuting Intelligent Design, not so long ago), because such positions have been blotted out in the contemporary arts before anyone had a chance to see them artistically defended.    Yet, I am coming to the conclusion that art must encompass important and disturbing points of view, because it has the ability to allow us to articulate something important about ourselves.

“Interesting cadences come from Stephen Spinella,” I go on in my notes. “I’ll be interested in hearing what other reviewers think of his approach, emphasizing lack of momentum, flatness—very downtown and worth a hear . . . Nice eruption between Celia and her father, who don’t seem to be acting in isolation, before the escape to Arden (Renee Elise Goldsberry and Andre Braugher) . . . Strange choice for Phoebe (Susannah Flood), often played in a masculine way . . . not sure what’s trying to be put across except that the character would be extremely annoying to marry (which Silvius wants) . . .

“The big question, of course, is how, after Juliet Rylance proved such a cheeky delight in the 2010 BAM production, audiences will react to Lily Rabe . . . she's not portraying Shakespeare's “moonish youth” in a traditional way and is too much of a complicated actor to play a romantic heroine –she’s a street-smart New Yorker in a frock.  Despite being determined to make her deep-voiced speeches understandable and meaningful--which she does--she really only comes into her own in the second half when she interprets Rosalind as Orlando’s “director,” just shy of calling for riding boots and crop . . .  It’s a strong way to think about Rosalind, but adds only further insularity to the production, as if she’s been in the rehearsal room only with those at special invitation . . . What she does share in common with the rest is the insistence that her written character--and the play--lacks charm . . . which is not true . . .”  

After the show is over, the Chinese women and I meet to walk to the Express bus.  Margery, stockier than the others, tells me she would like to prepare for the TOEFL exam, so that she can study in America—I do not think she likes that I have brought them to something as frivolous as a play.  She is direct, if not brusque; a suspicious communist observing capitalistic society.  This makes her paper even more unexpected when she hands it to me (early):  “Before I saw this play, I didn't think I would be surprised by Shakespeare but I was,” she becomes oddly confessional.  “This was the first time I saw a play by myself. I was sitting near the stage, imagining it was me who was the lovely Rosalind.

"It didn't really reflect reality,” she goes on. “Real love isn't always as easy as it was in this play. When I took out my notes again, everything about that night comes back to me. I can remember Duke Senior, Touchstone, as well as the guitarists. The heroine, Rosalind, was so funny when she said to Phebe: ‘You are not for all markets!’

"The plot also reminded me of the person who I had a secret crush on. However, my story didn't have a happy ending. I was thinking about how luxurious the love was in this play. For instance, the shepherd called Silvius went through so much to woo Phebe.

"I hoped I could meet the right person some day.

"I hoped I could live a happy life like Orlando and Rosalind.”

© 2012,  2014 by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Visit Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http://www.stagevoices.com/ .  If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com .



Now Playing

Drop Dead Perfect

Theatre at St. Clements

In this curaçao-spiked pastiche, a wealthy matron and her nubile ward live in tropical splendor somewhere in the Florida Keys. Sure, the high-strung Idris (Everett Quinton) pops too many pills, and young Vivien (Jason Edward Cook) dreams of escaping to the Village, but they muddle along companionably until the arrival of a startlingly well-endowed stranger (Jason Cruz). This campy spoof by Erasmus Fenn (one strongly suspects a pseudonym) fuses “The Glass Menagerie,” “I Love Lucy,” the late works of Bette Davis, and several mambo records. The cross-dressing and bad puns (“Would you like a cock in the tail?”) owe much to the Ridiculous Theatrical Company, which was founded by Quinton's late partner, Charles Ludlam. Though the director, Joe Brancato, encourages his cast to take the silliness seriously, the show only occasionally verges on gleeful derangement. But Quinton, kicking up his heels with psychopathic gaiety, is still zany after all these years.

Ice Factory Festival

New Ohio Theatre

The annual festival concludes with the Vampire Cowboys' "Untitled Vampire Cowboys Project," a futuristic action play written by Qui Nguyen and directed by Robert Ross Parker, in which a young woman must battle to save the world from going to Hell.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane

59E59 Theatres

Sitting at a grand piano, photographs from Nazi Germany flashing behind her, the concert pianist Mona Golabek tells the story of how her mother, Lisa Jura, was separated from her family at fourteen after her father, a Jewish tailor forced to gamble for food, won a single ticket on the Kindertransport—the train that took Jewish children from Germany to the relative safety of London in the late nineteen-thirties. Lisa’s last promise to her mother, whom she never saw again, was to keep playing the piano, at which she excelled. She did—even during the bombing that destroyed the London hostel she lived in with many other Jewish children, who had become her second family. Golabek is not an actress, and her reading of Hershey Felder’s adaptation of her own book on the subject lacks nuance, but it doesn’t matter: the audience is moved to tears as she plays sections from the various beautiful classical pieces her mother managed to learn throughout her very sad and scary ordeal. Directed by Felder.

Piece of My Heart

Pershing Square Signature Center-rental

This jukebox musical tells the story of Bert Berns (Zak Resnick), the young Brill Building hit-maker who wrote “Twist and Shout,” “I Want Candy,” “Hang On, Sloopy,” and many others, and died of a heart attack in 1967. The book, by Daniel Goldfarb, traces Berns’s trajectory through flashbacks and a frame about his now grown daughter, Jessie (Leslie Kritzer), his widow, Ilene (a show-stopping Linda Hart), a mysterious crony named Wazzel (Joseph Siravo), and the battle over the rights to his catalogue; at times it feels like a family grudge set to music. But Berns has a hell of a songbook. If you’ve heard Solomon Burke sing “Cry to Me,” hearing the thuggish young Wazzel (Bryan Fenkart) singing it to a gloomy Berns won’t provide the same frisson—but when the whole cast comes together to sing the rousing “Piece of My Heart,” some kind of redemption has been achieved. Directed and choreographed by Denis Jones.

Summer Shorts: Series A

59E59 Theatres

Roger Hedden’s mini tragicomedy “The Sky and the Limit” is a conversation between two childhood friends (Alex Breaux and Shane Patrick Kearns) after one leaps from a mesa during a hike, lands on his belly, and can’t get up. Though Breaux and Kearns are charming as the good boy and the bad, under the direction of Billy Hopkins, they never quite embody their characters, and the tragedy feels empty. In Eric Lane’s “Riverbed,” directed by Matthew Rauch, a young husband (Adam Green) and wife (Miriam Silverman) struggle with the loss of their three-year-old daughter after she drowns. The actors, who speak in monologues, don’t seem to have much of an emotional connection to the event or the material. The most satisfying of the three plays in the series is Warren Leight’s “Sec. 310, Row D, Seats 5 and 6,” a very fun, clever, well-observed piece in which three friends (Peter Jacobson, Geoffrey Cantor, and Cezar Williams) with season tickets to the New York Knicks reveal the progress of their lives over twenty years. Under the direction of Fred Berner, the actors get it right: being Knicks fans, New Yorkers, friends, and, mostly, guys.

Urban Theatre Movement's Handball

Marcus Garvey Park

SummerStage presents this play by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, about gentrification in New York City. Brenda Banda directs.

Openings and Previews

And I and Silence

Pershing Square Signature Center

Naomi Wallace wrote this play, set in the nineteen-fifties, about the bond between two teen-age girls, one black and one white, who meet in jail. Caitlin McLeod directs the Signature Theatre Company production. Previews begin Aug. 5.

Between Riverside and Crazy

Atlantic Theatre Company

Atlantic Theatre Company presents the world première of a play by Stephen Adly Guirgis, about an ex-cop struggling to hold on to his rent-controlled apartment on the Upper West Side. The cast is led by Stephen McKinley Henderson and Ray Anthony Thomas; Austin Pendleton directs. In previews. Opens July 31.

The Good and the True


The Prague-based theatre company Svandovo Divadlo presents a play by Daniel Hrbek, Tomas Hrbek, and Lucie Kolouchova, adapted by Brian Daniels, about the lives of the athlete Milos Dobry and the actress Hana Pravda, both of whom survived the Holocaust. Daniel Hrbek directs. In previews. Opens Aug. 3.

King Lear

Delacorte Theatre

The Public Theatre's free Shakespeare in the Park series concludes with the Shakespeare tragedy, starring John Lithgow, Annette Bening, Jessica Collins, and Jessica Hecht. Daniel Sullivan directs. In previews. Opens Aug. 5.

The Opponent

59E59 Theatres

Brett Neveu wrote this drama, about a young boxer and his coach. Karen Kessler directs the production, from Chicago’s A Red Orchid Theatre. Previews begin July 31.


Shakespeare in the Parking Lot

Hamilton Clancy directs the Shakespeare tragedy, in the second installment of the Drilling Company's free Shakespeare in the Parking Lot season. Previews begin July 31. Opens Aug. 2.


Cherry Lane Theatre

Julia Stiles and James Wirt star in this dark romantic comedy, about the tense dynamics between a man and a woman after a one-night stand. Written by Scott Organ and directed by Jennifer DeLia. In previews.

Poor Behavior

The Duke on 42nd Street

Primary Stages presents a comedy by Theresa Rebeck, about a new couple who spend a challenging weekend in the country. Evan Cabnet directs. In previews.

(Read more)




Visit Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http://www.stagevoices.com/ .  If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com .



(Gabriel Cohen’s article appeared July 25 in The New York Times; via Pam Green.)

Beneath the stage of Broadway’s Al Hirschfeld Theater lies a dark space with a low ceiling — a cross between a suburban rec room and a submarine. Shortly before each performance of “Kinky Boots,” 13 black-clad musicians file to their battle stations, each illuminated by a small light attached to a music stand. The expectant buzz of the audience filters down from a narrow opening at the edge of the stage.

As at any Broadway show, the musicians in the “Kinky Boots” pit are expected to play flawlessly for two-plus hours — even those who are sitting in for what may be the first time. During a recent Sunday matinee of the hit show, for instance, four of the musicians were substitutes, called in and asked to unobtrusively join a band grooving at the top of its game. After all, even Broadway musicians may want to take vacations, or spend the summer touring with Sting or the Rolling Stones.

“Subbing is a bit nerve-racking,” said Ann Klein, 52, who replaced Michael Aarons, the regular “Kinky Boots” guitarist, twice in July. Ms. Klein has worked as a replacement on Broadway for five years, in five different shows. She has a career as a singer-songwriter and will pick up work on tour with other artists. But substituting on Broadway pays pretty well — like regulars, subs earn union scale, $227.42 per performance — if you can deal with the high stakes. “You don’t have the luxury of rehearsing with the band,” Ms. Klein said. “So it’s scary.”

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Visit Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http://www.stagevoices.com/ .  If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com .



Document of Identity
by Wole Soyinka

Listen at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b04b24vj

Availability: Available for three weeks—check BBC Website below for end date.

Duration:  1 hour, 40 minutes

The second play celebrating Nobel Prize winning Nigerian writer Wole Soyinka's 80th birthday. This is a semi-autobiographical account of events that took place under the brutal regime of Nigerian dictator General Sani Abacha. Based on the experience of Soyinka's daughter, an academic forced to flee Nigeria by the threats against her father's family. Whilst in london, en route to the US, she gives birth prematurely only to find the newborn trapped in a stateless limbo. The British authorities say they are unable to issue the newborn with a visa and therefore the family cannot join Soyinka in the US.

First broadcast in 1999.


Writer  Wole Soyinka

Aigbo Ediale Paterson Joseph

Suulola Ediale Rakie Ayola

Talese Ediale  Oluwawemimo Oleyana

Razaq Baniye  Anthony Ofoegbu

Kiisu  Claire Benedict

Professor Saliu  Patrice Naiambana

Oseoba Ediale  Ehizogie Odigie

Mrs Bursley  Brigit Forsyth

Mr Brecross  Ron Berglas

Doctor  Martin Reeve

Composer  Juwon Ogungbe

Director  Pauline Harris

Producer  Pauline Harris

Visit Stage Voices Publishing for archived posts and sign up for free e-mail updates: http://www.stagevoices.com/ .  If you would like to contribute a review, monologue, or other work related to theatre, please write to Bob Shuman at Bobjshuman@gmail.com


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