WBEZ | drama http://www.wbez.org/tags/drama Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en Viola Davis is first black woman to win Emmy for Best Actress in a drama http://www.wbez.org/news/viola-davis-first-black-woman-win-emmy-best-actress-drama-113002 <p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/ap_948313660695_custom-3121c4372a2e2bbd68ce8dd2c99e15545a66599f-s800-c85.jpg" style="height: 383px; width: 600px;" title="Viola Davis accepts the Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a drama series for How to Get Away With Murder at the 67th Primetime Emmy Awards on Sunday in Los Angeles. (Phil McCarten/Invision for the Television Academy)" /></p><p>Viola Davis made history at Sunday night&#39;s Emmy Awards when she won for best actress in a drama for&nbsp;How to Get Away With Murder: It&#39;s the first time that award has gone to a black woman.</p><p>When Davis&#39; award was announced, Taraji P. Henson &mdash; nominated for the same award for her work on&nbsp;Empire &mdash;&nbsp;gave Davis a fierce hug and a one-woman standing ovation.</p><div><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">That vine of Viola and Taraji hugging is a masterclass in how to be ambitious, excellent AND supportive. <a href="https://t.co/TdzhkNZy68">https://t.co/TdzhkNZy68</a></p>&mdash; Saeed Jones (@theferocity) <a href="https://twitter.com/theferocity/status/645961037934628864">September 21, 2015</a></blockquote><script async src="//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js" charset="utf-8"></script></div><p>NPR&#39;s Eric Deggans&nbsp;<a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/19/441545161/what-to-watch-for-in-this-years-emmys-race-and-why-its-important">wrote earlier this week</a>&nbsp;that a win by either Davis or Henson would be a first &quot;basically because black women haven&#39;t had many starring roles in TV dramas until recently.&quot;</p><p>&quot;The only thing that separates women of color from everyone else is&nbsp;opportunity,&quot; Davis said in her speech. &quot;You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.&quot;</p><blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p dir="ltr" lang="en">For those in my mentions re: Davis&#39; quote: When Scandal debuted in &#39;12, there hadn&#39;t been a single drama starring a black woman since &#39;74.</p>&mdash; emily nussbaum (@emilynussbaum) <a href="https://twitter.com/emilynussbaum/status/645801487789129729">September 21, 2015</a></blockquote><p>In other categories, John Hamm &mdash; nominated 15 times for his work on&nbsp;Mad Men&nbsp;&mdash; finally won a statue, for best actor in a drama. His is the first and only acting award ever granted to the critically acclaimed show.</p><p>Jill Soloway, the creator and director of Amazon&#39;s&nbsp;Transparent,&nbsp;and Jeffrey Tambor, the star, both won for their work on the comedy show.</p><p>Allison Janney earned her seventh career Emmy &mdash; best supporting actress in a comedy, for her role in&nbsp;Mom.&nbsp;That many acting Emmy wins ties her with Ed Asner and Mary Tyler Moore, right behind Cloris Leachman&#39;s record of eight.</p><p>Julia Louis-Dreyfus won best lead actress in a comedy for&nbsp;Veep.</p><p>The full list of winners can be found&nbsp;<a href="http://www.emmys.com/awards/nominees-winners">here</a>.</p><p>Statues aside, host Andy Samberg launched the evening with a musical number that mocked the sheer quantity of television produced these days. His opening monologue touched on politics &mdash; mocking both Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, and taking a dig at Kim Davis &mdash; before riffing on the nominees.</p><p>Toward the close of the show, Tracy Morgan, seriously injured in a crash more than a year ago, walked out on stage to present the award for best drama series to&nbsp;Game of Thrones. Morgan &mdash; who suffered a traumatic brain injury in the June 2014 crash, which killed comedian James McNair &mdash; thanked the crowd for their prayers and good thoughts.</p><p>He also demonstrated he was feeling like himself again by vowing to impregnate &quot;a lot of women&quot; at the afterparty &mdash; a joke that delighted a crowd already moved by his very presence.</p><p>&nbsp;</p><p>&mdash; <a href="http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/09/20/442084867/viola-davis-becomes-first-black-woman-to-win-emmy-for-best-actress-in-a-drama?ft=nprml&amp;f=442084867" target="_blank"><em>via NPR</em></a></p></p> Mon, 21 Sep 2015 09:29:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/news/viola-davis-first-black-woman-win-emmy-best-actress-drama-113002 Bad Jews play explores faith and family http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-07/bad-jews-play-explores-faith-and-family-112332 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//main-images/Centre-East-Interior-2009_low-res.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><iframe frameborder="no" height="166" scrolling="no" src="https://w.soundcloud.com/player/?url=https%3A//api.soundcloud.com/tracks/213654507&amp;color=ff5500&amp;auto_play=false&amp;hide_related=false&amp;show_comments=true&amp;show_user=true&amp;show_reposts=false&amp;show_artwork=false" width="100%"></iframe></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 24px; line-height: 22px;">Bad Jews play explores faith and family</span></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Bad Jews tells the story of Daphna Feygenbaum, a 20-something &ldquo;real Jew&rdquo; with an Israeli boyfriend. When Daphna&rsquo;s cousin Liam brings home his shiksa girlfriend Melody and declares ownership of their grandfather&rsquo;s Chai necklace, a vicious brawl over family, faith and legacy ensues. Playwright Joshua Harmon joins Morning Shift to talk about the themes behind his play. We also hear from director Jeremy Wechsler and actress Laura Lapidus who takes on the role of Daphna.</span></p><p><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;"><strong>Guests:</strong> <em>Playwright&nbsp;</em></span><em><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Joshua Harmon, director&nbsp;</span><span style="color: rgb(51, 51, 51); font-family: Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 14px; line-height: 22px;">Jeremy Wechsler, and lead actress Laura Lapidus</span></em></p></p> Tue, 07 Jul 2015 10:53:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/programs/morning-shift/2015-07-07/bad-jews-play-explores-faith-and-family-112332 Don't-Miss List: New musical approaches and an African-American classic http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-11/dont-miss-list-new-musical-approaches-and-african-american-classic <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/suitcases%20flickr%20masochism%20tango.jpg" style="height: 414px; width: 620px; " title="(Flickr/Tom Godber)" /></div><p><u><em>The Suitcase Opera Project</em>, <a href="http://www.chicagovanguard.org">Chicago Opera Vanguard</a> at Pritzker Pavilion, 201 E. Randolph; free (donation suggested); Nov. 8-10 only, 7:30 p.m.</u></p><p>&quot;People tell me in 10 years I will be in the gutter. I&#39;m almost looking forward to the prospect,&quot; Jimmy writes to his friend Howard in 1948. Jimmy is eighteen, gay, dishonorably discharged from the Marines, and living in New York.&nbsp; In 49 letters he documents his pre-Stonewall life of cruising the bars and streets and partying with Gore Vidal, Anais Nin, and Truman Capote, while rhapsodizing on art, love, and sexuality. Sixty years later, famed monologist David Kodeski buys the letters at random in an online auction and discovers Jimmy&#39;s lost world. For two years Kodeski has been turning the material into a non-fiction chamber opera, <strong><em>The Suitcase Opera Project</em></strong>, with composer Eric Reda, artistic director of Chicago Opera Vanguard. These weekend performances at Pritzker Pavilion are the culminating workshops in the development of the piece. FYI: in the cold-weather off-season, the Pritzker Pavilion is sealed off from the rest of Millennium Park and you and the performers all will sit in cozy comfort on the Pavilion stage.</p><p><u><em>Ceremonies in Dark Old Men</em>, <a href="http://www.etacreativearts.org">eta Creative Arts Foundation</a>, 7558 S. South Chicago Avenue;&nbsp;1-773-792-3955; $30; through Dec. 23</u></p><p>Lonnie Elder III (1927-1996) was the first African-American writer nominated for an Academy Award (for the 1973 film <em>Sounder</em>), but before that this actor-turned-author had scored on Broadway in 1969 with <strong><em>Ceremonies in Dark Old Men</em></strong>, which ranks close to <em>A Raisin in the Sun</em> as &nbsp;a seminal drama of urban African-American life. Set in and around a Harlem barbershop, the play chronicles the disintegration of a Black family in the midst of the 1960&#39;s social revolution, with a particular focus on the disenfranchisement &mdash; real or imagined &mdash; of African-American men within their own community. Vaun Monroe is the director of this American classic. FYI: Be sure to check out the gallery exhibit at eta Creative Arts.</p><p><u><em>Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular</em>, <a href="http://www.circle-theatre.org">Circle Theatre</a>, 1010 W. Madison, Oak Park; 1-708-660-9540; $27.90-$29.97 (with service fee); runs through Dec. 23</u></p><p>A young man goes in search of the world or at least some good sex and, like Candide, ultimately finds more satisfaction in simple things, perhaps. With a pop score by Stephen Schwartz and a polyglot, meta-theatrical book by Roger O. Hirson, <em>Pippin</em>, was a huge Broadway hit of the 1970s (ran for five years), bringing a contemporary anti-authoritarian vibe to its fictionalized story of the son of Charlemagne in the 9th Century. Many feel the show hasn&#39;t aged well, especially without the hip-grinding original staging of the legendary Bob Fosse. Circle Theatre proposed to restore the show&#39;s oomph by making it a Bollywood spectacular. Circle artistic director Kevin Bellie has successfully re-burnished many other shows after their luster has dulled, and he is both director and choreographers of <strong><em>Pippin: A Bollywood Spectacular</em></strong>.</p></p> Thu, 08 Nov 2012 05:00:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-11/dont-miss-list-new-musical-approaches-and-african-american-classic Wrestling with dead playwrights http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-08/wrestling-dead-playwrights-101486 <p><p>Generations of producers, directors and actors have joked that &quot;the only good playwright is a dead playwright,&quot; and sometimes they are half-serious . . . but only sometimes and only half. They damn well know that theater requires a steady diet of new works, and everyone one of &#39;em constantly is on the lookout for the next hot author and the next great script.</p><p><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/shakespeare%20bust%20flickr%20BayerNYC.jpg" style="float: left; height: 399px; width: 300px; " title="Shakespeare haunts us still. (Flickr/BayerNYC)" />Still, a dead playwright can&#39;t argue about how the play is cast, about whether or not the design elements meet the author&#39;s intentions, about changes to the script or about radical directorial concepts, let alone gross misinterpretations by actors. Perhaps the old joke should be altered to read &quot;the only safe playwright is a dead playwright.&quot;</p><p>Except that&#39;s not true, either. Even dead playwrights can rise from the grave to bite you in the butt if they have well-managed literary estates and surviving copyright holders. Case in point, some years ago Chicago&#39;s long-gone (but then high-flying) Remains Theatre staged the Kurt Weill-Bertolt Brecht opera, <em>The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny</em>. Although it only was a local production, scheduled for a limited run in a small Off-Loop venue, the Weill and Brecht estates shut it down in less than three weeks when they got wind of it via newspaper reviews.</p><p>Remains made two errors. First, they used an English translation that wasn&#39;t authorized for stage performances but only for reading purposes, thereby avoiding paying royalties to the Brecht Estate. This is one of the sinkholes of producing works in translation. Remains could have made things right by paying the Estate royalties for the authorized translation and then not using it, but they also would have had to pay royalties for the translation they <em>were </em>using.</p><p>But Remains could not possibly square things with the Kurt Weill Foundation: with brass balls and incredible stupidity, the ensemble decided that <em>Mahagonny</em> primarily was a Brecht work, so they threw out all of Kurt Weill&#39;s music and wrote an original rock score! Hey, let&#39;s do The Ring Cycle but we&#39;ll write new music and only use Wagner&#39;s words. No amount of money could make that right as Remains had violated the fundamental artistic integrity of the work.</p><p>On the other hand, since the death of August Wilson in 2005, his estate has sanctioned several productions of his plays by white directors, something Wilson did not allow in his lifetime.</p><p>So, the <em>real</em> deal is that the only safe playwright is a dead playwright whose works no longer are under copyright, and who wrote them in English in the first place. Think Shakespeare, of course, or Oscar Wilde or Gilbert and Sullivan. Otherwise you&#39;re still stuck dealing with copyrighted translations into English of, say, Moliere or Sophocles or Chekhov or Ibsen.</p><p>The way to get around that, as many producers and directors have done, is to cobble together a &quot;new&quot; translation using bits and pieces of many, so that no single translator quite can claim that it is his/her work. In terms of literary quality, of course, you get what you pay for.</p><p>Another thing is simply to write your own work, freely stealing storylines and characters from an existing classical source. Hey, <em>The Boys from Syracuse</em>, the Rodgers and Hart musical, is based on <em>The Comedy of Errors</em>, which Shakespeare took from the antique Roman playwright, Plautus.</p><p>In Chicago two seasons back, Sean Graney of The Hypocrites assembled <em>Seven Sicknesses</em> by consolidating elements from the seven extant plays of Sophocles, setting the work in a modern hospital. Several years before that, he thoroughly dumbed down Sophocles <em>Oedipus the King</em> by creating a contemporary Classics Illustrated-type version, complete with original rock music. Both of Graney&#39;s riffs on Sophocles are far enough afield from the originals (in any translation) for Graney to be able to secure his own copyrights for them, although I don&#39;t know whether or not he has.</p><p>All of this leads me to the fact that a new theater troupe in town calls itself, with self-conscious cheekiness, the Dead Writers Theatre Collective. Its mission not only is to perform the works of dead authors, but also plays <em>about</em> dead authors, such as Edward Bond&#39;s <em>Bingo</em>, in which Shakespeare and Ben Jonson engage in a drinking bout (although the company has not programmed <em>Bingo</em>). Some of the company&#39;s plays in the latter category will be new plays by living authors. The inaugural production (through Aug. 26) is <em>The Vortex</em>, the 1925 play by Noel Coward (1899-1973) which was his first great success. My Dueling Critics colleague, Kelly Kleiman, and I discuss the production on <em>Eight Forty-Eight</em> on Tuesday (Aug. 7).</p><p>Perusing the July theater calendar, I see that the first three productions of the month were a variation on Euripides&#39; <em>Electra</em> (at Mary-Arrchie Theatre), Chekhov&#39;s <em>Three Sisters</em> (still running at Steppenwolf) and Luis Alfaro&#39;s take on Sophocles in the Barrio, <em>Oedipus El Rey</em> (at Victory Gardens Theater). The month also offered at least four Shakespeares (all out doors) and one each by Harold Pinter, Tennessee Williams and Eugene O&#39;Neill (who has been having a very big year in Chicago).</p><p>Obviously, dead playwrights are alive and well and still serving to inspire &mdash; sometimes wisely and sometimes not &mdash; theater artists of today.</p></p> Tue, 07 Aug 2012 07:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/onstagebackstage/2012-08/wrestling-dead-playwrights-101486 Short plays settle for less http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-17/short-plays-settle-less-96504 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-February/2012-02-17/4610197524_15b3a653c5.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>It’s like global warming: a lot of the evidence is anecdotal rather than empirical. But over the last decade at least, plays have been getting shorter and shorter. Are playwrights at fault? Do they realize they can earn the same bucks (if they earn anything at all) for a 75 minute show as for one twice that length? Or are audiences with shrinking attention spans demanding shorter performances? Whichever it may be—and you’ll have my opinion by the end of this post—a good night out in theater almost always is briefer than it used to be.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-17/4610197524_15b3a653c5.jpg" style="width: 600px; height: 372px;" title="Caryl Churchill's 'A Number' runs a mere 55 minutes. (Flickr/TEDx NJLibraries)"></p><p>Right now in Chicago, you’ll be hard-pressed to spend even two hours in a playhouse, let alone longer. <em>American Idiot</em>, the Tony Award winning musical at the Oriental, runs 95 minutes. <em>Feast: An Intimate Tempest</em> at Chicago Shakespeare Theater is 75 minutes. <em>Punk Rock</em> at Griffin Theatre is less than two hours without an intermission. <em>dark play or stories for boys</em> (sic) at Collaboraction is 90 minutes straight through. <em>Race</em> at the Goodman, <em>Disgraced</em> at American Theater Company, Hesperia at Writers’ Theatre and <em>Love and Money</em> at Steep Theatre also are current attractions clocking in at 100 minutes or less.</p><p>One argument is that the attention span of audiences is shorter due to TV, internet, multi-tasking and our ability to absorb images more quickly; a proposition I firmly and adamantly reject. The vast number of theaters presenting three-hour-plus works by Shakespeare, O’Neill, Chekhov and other authors gives that argument the lie. Some of our most popular works are long plays, among them <em>A Streetcar Named Desire</em>, <em>Death of a Salesman</em>, <em>Angels in America</em> (either part) and musicals such as <em>South Pacific</em> and <em>A Fiddler on the Roof</em>. Audiences sit through these works with only one intermission typically.</p><p>What’s more, film patrons eagerly stay glued to their seats <em>without</em> an intermission for films running two-to-three hours in length. Some may take a potty break or hit the concessions stand, but most do not. Not so very long ago, the standard length for a movie was 90 minutes while theater <em>always</em> was two-and-a-half hours or more. It’s ironic that the profiles have reversed. The point is, however, that there’s ample evidence that audience attention span is NOT a compelling argument for shorter plays, so we must look to the playwrights themselves.</p><p>My colleague, <a href="http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-16/brevity-soul-wit-96475">Kelly Kleiman, puts forward an economic argument in her current blog post</a>, and there’s some truth to it: generally it will be cheaper for a theater to produce a one-set play with two or three or four characters, which is the profile of shorter works for the most part (musicals such as <em>American Idiot</em> being an exception). Still, I say look to the playwrights. Beyond economics, it’s very, very difficult for a writer to sustain interest in only two or three characters over a stretch of two or more hours. Yes, Tennessee Williams does it in <em>The Glass Menagerie</em> and Albee in <em>Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?</em> and O’Neill in <em>Long Day’s Journey Into Night</em> but they are exceptions by master playwrights.</p><p>Conversely, it’s virtually impossible to create a play with 10 or 12 or more characters and multiple sub-plots in 90 or 100 minutes. An author simply doesn’t have time to develop that many characters and situations.</p><p>And here we must look at how playwriting is taught, as dramatic authors mostly come out of academic programs nowadays rather than materializing spontaneously. Writing exercises very often call for an author to create a two-character or three-character scene based on a particular situation or goal, but almost never are authors-in-training asked to create an eight-character or 10-character scene. Young playwrights are not asked to envision and outline larger works, say an epic history play in the manner of Shakespeare, or a three-act drama in the manner of Chekhov, or a multi-generational work in the manner of whomever. Those few writers who do just that usually come to such works after they’ve been writing awhile and often through mighty struggles. Tony Kushner worked on <em>Angels in America</em> for 10 years.</p><p>I could continue to discuss this subject at much greater length, and astute observers certainly could counter my arguments with numerous examples such as Sarah Ruhl’s ambitious <em>Passion Play</em> or the type of large stories the House Theatre of Chicago and Lookingglass often develop for, and within, their own ensembles. I’ve made my points, however, so this probably is a good place to stop. I’ll close with just one final example.</p><p>The ultimate reduction in playwriting so far may be <em>A&nbsp;Number</em>&nbsp;by award-winning British playwright Caryl Churchill. Produced successfully in London, New York, Chicago (at the Next Theatre Company) and elsewhere, this two-character play runs just 55 minutes but is sold as a full-length evening standing on its own.</p><p>The Churchill play is NOT a full evening, no matter how you slice, dice or julienne it. Even though the Next Theatre production was extremely well-done (far better than the New York staging), it should have been part of a double bill of two one-act plays. If Churchill insisted by contract that it had to be staged as a stand-alone work, then she should be drummed out of the business. Simply put: it is exploitive capitalism at its worst to extract a full ticket price from audiences for less than a full evening of theater. Then again, <em>caveat emptor.</em></p></p> Fri, 17 Feb 2012 17:50:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-02-17/short-plays-settle-less-96504 A touch of theatrical déjà vu http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" alt="" /><p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/the_ghost_is_here.jpg" style="margin-left: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: right; width: 225px; height: 340px;" title="'The Ghost is Here' from Vitalist Theatre">Someone much wise and more perceptive than me (I know it’s difficult to imagine such a thing) observed that in all of literature, including drama, there only are nine or a dozen basic storylines. I forget the precise number, but it’s remarkably low. I was reminded of this in compiling my master list of theater productions opening in the next several months, during which task <em>déjà vu</em> jumped up and socked me in the jaw a couple of times.</p><p>For example, this past weekend saw the Vitalist Theatre offer <a href="http://www.vitalisttheatre.org/company.html"><strong><em>The Ghost is Here</em></strong></a>, a 1957 play by acclaimed Japanese author Kobo Abe, running through Feb. 19 at the DCA Storefront Theater. Set in post-World War II Japan, it’s the tale of a preposterous con-artist promoting a grim scam of selling the dead or, rather, buying photos of the war dead cheap and selling them back dear to grieving relatives, claiming that an agent for the ghosts of the dead demands a cut.</p><p>Instantly, I thought of Nikolai Gogol’s 1842 novel, <em>Dead Souls</em>, in which a schemer buys up the souls of deceased serfs (this was before the 1861 Emancipation of Russian serfs) whose names remain listed as taxable property of landowners. I don’t know if Abe ever had access to Gogol’s writings, either in Russian or Japanese, but both authors are famously noted for the absurdist, almost surreal worlds they create. <em>Dead Soul</em> was adapted for the stage at least twice, famously by Mikhail Bulgakov in 1932 for the Moscow Art Theatre, directed by Stanislavsky, and in 1980 by Russian-fluent American playwright Tom Cole for the Milwaukee Repertory Theatre.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2012-January/2012-01-17/clutter.jpg" style="margin-right: 10px; margin-top: 10px; margin-bottom: 10px; float: left; width: 300px; height: 199px;" title="'Clutter' at Greenhouse Theatre (Photo by Peter Coombs)">Then, this Thursday (Jan. 19), MadKap (sic) Productions offer a world premiere by Mark Salztman, <a href="http://www.madkapproductions.com/-clutter.html"><strong><em>Clutter</em></strong></a>, running at the Greenhouse through March 11. It’s based on the lives of the Collyer Brothers, New York City eccentrics and hoarders found dead in their garbage-packed Upper Fifth Avenue townhouse in 1947. Their fascinatingly grotesque story has been turned into plays at least twice previously, Richard Greenberg’s 2002 <em>The Dazzle</em> (seen locally at Steppenwolf) and last July’s <em>Stuff</em>, by Michael McKeever, produced at the Caldwell Theatre in Florida. The brothers also were the subject of a 2009 E. L. Doctorow work of historical fiction (as is his wont), <em>Homer and Langley</em>.</p><p>Obviously, plays based on historical fact aren’t necessarily works which can be sorted into a particular plot slot, although each of them must have some sort of plot structure. Greenberg’s <em>The Dazzle</em>, for example, featured the Collyer Brothers as competitors in a romantic triangle much like, oh, say, <em>The Phantom of the Opera</em> in which Christine is lured by The Phantom and Raoul. There are few other similarities except the basic plot structure; see Paragraph One above.</p><p>The attraction of history and real people is, perhaps, the fact that they are in the public domain and, therefore, can be utilized as subjects with minimal legal encumberments. Often, too, such subjects or characters already are widely known, making them somehow more attractive to potential audiences. Thus, for example, we currently have Christopher Durang’s <strong><em>Titanic</em></strong> on stage at the <a href="http://www.athenaeumtheatre.com/">Athenaeum Theatre</a>, presented by Cock and Bull Theatre (through Jan. 29). It’s a very long way from the first or only stage and film treatment of the subject, although surely it’s the most outrageous with its drag sensibilities.</p><p>Also, Lookingglass Theatre now is presenting<a href="http://lookingglasstheatre.org/content/box_office/mr_rickey_calls_a_meeting"> <strong><em>Mr. Rickey Calls a Meeting,</em></strong></a> through Feb. 9, which recounts Brooklyn Dodgers owner Branch Rickey’s decision to integrate major league baseball with the 1947 call-up of Jackie Robinson. This seminal moment in American sporting history has been documented onstage and in film and even in a 1981 Broadway musical, <em>The First</em>, produced locally some years ago by the Marriott Theatre in Lincolnshire.</p><p>I could go on, but you get the idea. Literature IS <em>déjà vu</em>, at least to a degree. I guess that some story ideas, some plotlines and some character types never stale in their infinite variety. Or, to use even more French, <em>plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose</em>.</p><p>P.S. If you think you’re reading my blog post from last week, you are <em>wrong</em>. This one is COMPLETELY DIFFERENT AND ORIGINAL!</p></p> Tue, 17 Jan 2012 10:57:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2012-01-17/touch-theatrical-d%C3%A9j%C3%A0-vu-95578 Sweet or Sour? The Dueling Critics taste 'Last Saint on Sugar Hill' http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-05-13/sweet-or-sour-dueling-critics-taste-last-saint-sugar-hill-86455 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org//blog/photo/2011-May/2011-05-13/www.mpaact.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center; "><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-May/2011-05-13/www.mpaact.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 344px; " title=""></p><p><strong>KELLY:</strong> What's so terrific about MPAACT's <a href="http://www.greenhousetheater.org/index.php/lastsaintsugarhill"><i>Last Saint on Sugar Hill</i></a> is its unapologetic approach to its subject.&nbsp; As I watched this account of a man literally driven mad by greed, and the consequences of that for his two sons, I realized how often African-American-themed plays seem to feel obliged to be uplifting. But of course most of human life isn't actually very uplifting, and so the need to point a moral weakens the dramatic strength of the piece.&nbsp;<i>Last Saint on Sugar Hill</i> is anything but weak--and, curiously, is the more uplifting for it! Jonathan, your thoughts?</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong> As usual, Kelly, you jump in with an opinion before you provide any context. I could say "How like a woman," but that would only get me in trouble.&nbsp;But how like YOU, Kelly! This world premiere play by Keith Josef Adkins is about a father and his two sons living in today's rapidly-gentrifying Harlem. The father, Napoleon (not a subtle name choice), is a grasping, unkind&nbsp;and controling figure who's risen from poverty to oversee a small real estate and business empire. However, he's confused parenting with training dogs: he's raised a pitbull and a pampered poodle. Inevitably, one or both is gonna' bite Pop's butt. Hint: the pitbull is not the person Pop thinks he is.<br> <br> <strong>KELLY:</strong> Oh, Jonathan, I always leave the tedious details to you, which is your forte, while I take flight intellectually, which is mine. But now you've let me down, because your description makes it sound like <i>Last Saint</i> is a classic Chicago kitchen-sink drama, albeit set in New York.&nbsp; Really it combines those naturalistic elements with a nod to magic realism, an approach I don't ordinarily like. But here the 'magic' elevates an otherwise pedestrian story to the level of a fable, or a morality play. Didn't you find yourself searching your memory for the name of the Biblical father on whom Napoleon was patterned? But he combines so many archetypal elements you can't settle on just one.&nbsp;<br> <br> And how about Trinity Parnell's amazing performance as Napoleon?&nbsp; The whole company does well under the direction of the Jeff-nominated Carla Stilwell, but Mr. Parnell is above and beyond.&nbsp; Did you recognize him as the man who played Wilson Pickett for BET?&nbsp; Or were you too busy parsing the plot?</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong>&nbsp;Snippy, snippy! What you&nbsp;refer to as the "magic"&nbsp;elements only confused me (go on, Kelly, make an age-ist joke at my expense).&nbsp;The presence of a mystical&nbsp;homeless man who somehow has access to the&nbsp;hero's history is both strange and, frankly, unnecessary. It's not magic realism, and it's unnecessary 'cause&nbsp;Old Pops has plenty of baggage without&nbsp;any additional back story.&nbsp;Even so,&nbsp;playwright Keith Josef Adkins has bountiful and obvious gifts. <em>Last Saint on Sugar&nbsp;Hill</em>--Sugar Hill, by the way, is a famous Harlem 'hood--bursts with sharp dialogue, word-play and so much&nbsp;cutting humor that the comedy nearly overpowers what is meant to be a deeply serious&nbsp;tale. And, yes, Trinity Parnell&nbsp;carries the show&nbsp;as Napoleon in a steely, rapid-fire performance that engages the audience.<br clear="all"> <br> <strong>KELLY:</strong> So we agree that this is the work of a smart and interesting playwright, being performed by a strong ensemble led by an exceptional actor. Sounds like two thumbs up to me. Anything else is just quibbling.</p><p><strong>JONATHAN:</strong> As Scarlett says in <em>Gone With the Wind</em>, "Oh, quibble-dee-dee!" I don't think the supporting actors are a match for Parnell, although Adkins does&nbsp;give him the most pungent role. It's always difficult when the antagonist dominates a play rather than the hero.&nbsp;Also, the strength of this work is NOT in the story. To go back to your opening comment that African-American plays "seem to feel obliged to be uplifting," I don't think you've immersed yourself in the black-on-black violence&nbsp;and currents of self-loathing to be found in much African-American dramatic literature. I find the generational dispute, and the unexpected aspirations of the older brother, to be more interesting in what is--I agree--an energetic production of a play by a writer with a voice. The MPAACT production of <em>Last Saint on Sugar Hill</em> continues at The Greenhouse, 2257 N. Lincoln, through June 12.</p></p> Fri, 13 May 2011 20:20:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blog/onstagebackstage/2011-05-13/sweet-or-sour-dueling-critics-taste-last-saint-sugar-hill-86455