Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Author: Mark Haggard

The Symposium: L-R Kimberly Faye Greenberg as Lillian Hellman, Dorothy Weems as Dorothy Parker, Kim Rogers as Agatha Christie, Kristen Gehling as Muriel Gardiner, Penny Lynn White as Alice B. Toklas.  Photo: Samantha Mercado Tudda

Review | Little Wars, A Workshop Production by Steven Carl McCasland | Directed by Thia Stephan Hyde | Beautiful Soup Theater | Roy Arias Stage IV

A symposium — a drinking party with dinner in the offing, only here the participants are not Socrates and the male literati of the “golden age” of ancient Athens, as in Plato’s dramatic dialogue.  This symposium is of 20th-century writers and — quite an update! — they’re all women:  Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, Agatha Christie, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, along with Muriel Gardiner, well known for saving many Jews during World War II, and Bernadette, a young house maid.  The time is early in the war, and the gathering at the Stein-Toklas household in the French mountains.

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My Picks of the Edinburgh Fringe | Request Programme by Franz Xaver Kroetz | Directed by Hedvig Claesson | SIRIS Original Theatre | Kafka And Son | Directed by Mark Cassidy | Richard Jordan Productions Ltd/Threshold/Assembly

Viewing the Edinburgh Fringe

Two vignette reviews cannot do justice to the productive maelstrom that is Edinburgh Fringe Festival, run every August in parallel with the other Edinburgh Festivals (International, Book etc).  Of the 2,500 productions, most will make a considerable financial loss as in the past; nowadays, ribald so-called comedy has so outgrown experimental theatre that this is the association that many people now have for the Fringe.  It was always possible to go as couple and as an audience be outnumbered by the cast, and there is still much amateur acting, but also a very large number of good productions for which the audience and reviewers are not numerous enough.  Darwinian profusion and competition: much good writing and acting talent is first seen at this important showcase.  Aided by track record of author and company, and nowadays by internet-accessible reviews of the production before it came to Edinburgh (from almost any quarter of the globe), it is possible at relatively affordable prices to feast breakfast-to-suppertime on shows including music, dance, cabaret and children’s fare, whilst mostly avoiding those productions you need for the occasional laughable story, but would want to tell friends to avoid.  I am thus confirming rather than showing any original insight original in awarding  *****  to the following two.

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Review | Emperor and Galilean by Henrik Ibsen | In a New Version by Ben Power | Directed by Jonathan Kent | National Theatre | Olivier Theatre | London

The National Theatre has a great reputation for brilliant staging of old and new drama based on historical fact, to which witness the great success of The White Guard, Coram Boy, and Pitmen Painters, on the last of which I have written previously.  This reputation remains intact with the present production, despite lesser success in my own view and the average of very varied reviews received (2 to 4 out of 5 stars).

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Film Note | Inside Job | Documentary Film by Charles Ferguson | Contributions and Narration by Matt Damon

Many people had their say on the Wall Street fraud (it would be indulgent to merely call it a crisis or crash, when a bank is mis-selling mortgages which it knows are trash and will fail, but is also insuring itself against such failure).  This documentary says a lot, very clearly and comprehensively (see for example the New York Times review).  So what is there to add 5 months after the film’s debut and 29 months after the collapse?  And what is there to say from a country not included in the critique to the extent it might justifiably have been by virtue of its considerable financial muscle and its own spectacular bank failures?

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Review | Edinburgh Festival | King’s Theatre | Caledonia, Edinburgh | National Theatre of Scotland | August, 21-26, 2010

… Pageant of Failure …

“The Scots are fond of blaming others for their own misfortunes, especially the English.” This maxim is well known to sophisticated and travelled Scots and holds a grain of truth; it is, almost verbatim, one of the more severe of the many self-mocking lines in this intriguing mixture, a staging of the tragedy of the 1698 Darien expedition by Scotland to colonise the isthmus of Panama. The dramatisation raises two interesting issues: (a) what aspect do you oncentrate on (politics, greed, human folly, texture of life) and (b) what theatrical register do you adopt (music-theatre, pageant, satire, searing personal drama with well-painted main characters? Caledonia is worth seeing and informative, but ultimately fails because it answers these questions with “a little bit of everything.”

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Review | The Habit of Art by Alan Bennett | Directed by Nicholas Hytner | Starring Richard Griffiths and Elex Jennings | Simulcast of the Play Presented by the National Theatre, London

I saw The Habit of Art “live” in a cinema well outside London, as did thousands across North America, though not on Broadway, under the new NTLive initiative, using high-definition satellite relay. This is a new technological compromise between live theatre and cinema (long-focus lenses and ingeniously unobtrusive camera technique ensure a better view than from the stalls). It’s worth a debate in its own right (does one clap and laugh aloud ?) However, the play’s the thing.

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Review | The Pitmen Painters by Lee Hall | Directed by Max Roberts | National Theatre | Manhattan Theatre Club

The Pitmen Painters is currently playing in NYC at the Manhattan Theater Club.  This review, written when the play was in London, may interest you.

… a rich tapestry of art, drama and recent history … with personal recollections of Richard Lyon …

What makes a particular play run and run?  No single property surely, but some of them are well illustrated by The Pitmen Painters now back at London’s National Theatre for the third time, and for a 4-month season.  I would hazard that two such properties are interrelated:  breadth of appeal and the efficient weaving of an optimum, slight, degree of ambiguity (ie several messages, none too heavily stated), achieved by having several strands in the dramatic development interwoven with enough coherence to not fall apart.  Rank ambiguity is tolerable in the visual arts because we can choose to walk to the next picture, but not in a play;  we can’t reasonably disrupt the performance by leaving before the end of the first act.  Waiting for Godot was a success but a rare one, in what is historically a very minority taste.

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