Saturday, July 28, 2018

On Digital Programs

The "cover" of the
Carmen Jones digital program
Along with the admonishments to turn off cell phones and unwrap their hard candy, theatergoers attending the Off-Broadway revival of Carmen Jones at Classic Stage Company are getting an unusual greeting from the volunteer ushers. "The theater is going green," they tell the patrons, "there are no paper programs. You can go online to CSC's website and view the program digitally." This came as a bit of a shock to me since, up until recently, I have saved the theater program from every single show I have ever seen--and many I haven't. I used to scour the Broadway Flea Market, used book stores and antique places in upstate NY for Playbills of significant shows, sometimes even historic flops like Dude and Carrie. But lately I've been purging my collection. Do I really need the program from the Alaska Rep production of Mrs. Warren's Profession or the 37th Off-Off-Broadway revival of Three Sisters?

But for the shows I did see, it's difficult to part with the paper reminder. If there is no physical program, it feels to me as if the experience did not exist or that it wasn't official. That's a bit irrational on my part, but it's how I feel. It's a hard habit to break and digital programs may be the wave of the future, just as digital books, the internet, and I-phones are killing print journalism, physical tomes, and photo albums.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Thoughts on Handmaid's Tale and Roseanne

WARNING: SPOILER ALERT. If you have not watched all of Season 2, spoilers ahead.

Elisabeth Moss in The Handmaid's Tale
The Internet abounds with jokes about The Handmaid's Tale, Hulu's adaptation of Margaret Atwood's classic dystopian novel, actually being a documentary. The show which just concluded its second season and received 20 Emmy nominations, provides progressive liberals a satisfying opportunity to dump on Trump by comparing its totalitarian vision of Gilead, a future America, to the Donald's administration. "Look, aren't Commander Waterford and his terrible wife Serena Joy just like those bad old Trump supporters," we say to ourselves, as an act of consolation for having to tolerate such a racist jerk for a president. For a moment, we feel our anger and frustration relieved. It was such a thrill to see Waterford and Serena kicked out of Canada and reviled by protestors after the letters from captive handmaids were downloaded. Waterford and Serena's expressions of shame were what we want to see on our Trump-loving countrymen's faces when and if he is ever exposed for the vile creature he is. But then it's back to reality.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

2018-19 B'way/Off-B'way Update

Ivo Van Hove
Credit: Stephanie Berger
Several new shows have been announced for the 2018-19 Broadway and Off-Broadway season since our last update and they all sound intriguing. International avant-garde sensation and Tony winner Ivo Van Hove will direct his first Broadway musical with a revival of West Side Story. Heaven knows what the unconventional helmer with do with the Bernstein-Laurents-Sondheim-Robbins classic. He turned A View from the Bridge, The Crucible and A Streetcar Named Desire inside out and his current production of The Damned at the Park Avenue Armory just opened to reviews praising his daring. What's really weird is the show starts begins Dec. 10, 2019 and it is
Damon Daunno in Daniel Fish's staging of Oklahoma! 
at Bard College in 2015.
slated to open Feb. 6, 2020 at a theater TBA. That's almost two months of previews! Maybe van Hove, who is extremely busy with upcoming stage productions of All About Eve in London, A Little Life in Amsterdam, and Don Giovanni in Parsi and at the Met on his plate, needs time to work out his startling ideas. West Side Story is also getting a film update from Tony Kushner and Steve Spielberg as well as current productions at the Guthrie and Glimmerglass. Oklahoma! will also get the revision treatment when Daniel Fish's production opens at St. Ann's Warehouse in October. I saw this production at Bard College in 2015 and it treats the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic in a radically new and relevant style.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

The Ninth Annual David Desk Awards

Barrett Wilbert Weed, Erika Henningsen,
and Grey Henson in Mean Girls
Credit: Joan Marcus
It's time once again for the annual David Desk Awards for outstanding work on and Off-Broadway--actually it's way past time since the Tonys, Drama Desks, and Obies were handed out a month ago. But I have been busy with finishing my first full year as a teacher and attending graduate school classes. 

There is some overlap with my accolades and the better-known theater prizes, but some significant differences. Both the Drama Desks and Outer Critics lauded such mediocre musicals as Desperate Measures and SpongeBob SquarePants since The Band's Visit, the big winner at the Tonys, was ineligible because of its Off-Broadway run in 2016-17. The Tonys consider only Broadway shows, while the DDs and OCCs combine on and Off-Broadway, so Band's Visit was part of last season's candidates, winning Outstanding Music and Lyrics and Director of a Musical at the Drama Desks and Outstanding Off-Broadway Musical and Score from the Outer Critics.

As a result of Band's Visit's absence, I only had one new musical in my list for the top--Mean Girls--which I think was unfairly overlooked by many awards. Tina Fey did win the Outstanding Book from the DD and OCC, but I think it should have won score from both groups. The New York Drama Critics Circle voted to give no Outstanding Musical award at all.

I also included many fine performances which were totally snubbed in other circles such as the always sterling Zach Grenier as a complex Communist commander in Describe the Night, Mark-Linn Baker as a hamster-loving mental patient in Good for Otto, and Seth Numrich's athletic Dadaist in Travesties. The compete list of the 2017-18 David Desks follows: