Sometimes the material that turns up in the pages of American Theatre is news to me. Not that it’s unexpected—rest assured, I’m there as we plan our issues in painstaking detail—but some articles (last month’s cover story on the widespread theatricalization of Roald Dahl’s fiction is a good example) are about work that, for one reason or another, I simply haven’t seen. Editing this magazine can be more fun and more satisfying, I have to confess, when the issue at hand is packed with information about shows I’ve not only seen but wildly appreciated—which is the case with this December issue, in spades.
Editing Joseph Eastburn’s cover story—a candid conversation with actor and director Tim Robbins, who has become a virtual ambassador for global theatre—brought to mind the Actors’ Gang’s vivid, unsettling 1984, a masterwork of novelistic concision that I saw in 2012 at TeatroStagefest in Bogotá, Colombia. “Our style works around the world,” Robbins tells Eastburn, a claim vouchsafed by the success of 1984 and other gems in the Gang repertory that continue to fascinate international audiences.
What a pleasure to reconnect, via Jeremy D. Goodwin’s profile of composer Gabriel Kahane, with the richness and poignancy of February House, a distinctively different chamber musical by Kahane and Seth Bockley featuring a roster of literary characters as its cast list. Two viewings of the Public Theater of New York’s ingenious production of the show in early 2013 led me to Kahane’s follow-up concert of theatre songs at Carnegie Hall, and to the conclusion that the art of musical theatre will benefit mightily in years to come from Kahane’s immense talent.
Then Suzy Evans’s festive Front & Center report about the Hypocrites of Chicago rekindled images from the most rousing production of Gilbert and Sullivan I’ve seen in several decades—director Sean Graney’s wrap-around-the-audience staging of The Pirates of Penzance, which I caught two seasons ago at Massachusetts’s American Repertory Theater. (I say decades because I’ve been around long enough to have witnessed that most famous of Penzance productions, the Public’s ebullient 1981 Central Park-to-Broadway rendition starring Linda Ronstadt, Kevin Kline and Rex Smith.) H.M.S. Pinafore is next on Graney’s G&S agenda.
Finally, Eliza Bent’s Global Spotlight essay draws thoughtful parallels between two international productions, one of which nailed me and the rest of a 2013 Malta Festival audience in Poznan, Poland, to our seats—Romeo Castellucci’s The Four Seasons Restaurant, a thrillingly assaultive piece that Bent evokes with a mix of querulousness and admiration. My own account of the Four Seasons experience (Oct. ’13) was overstuffed with adjectival excess (“brutal grandiosity,” “fatalistic inevitability”) but ultimately shared Bent’s appreciation for its creator’s dark vision and conceptual audacity.
So, more or less coincidentally, this is an AT issue that conjures up some of this editor’s most memorable theatre experiences of recent seasons, here and abroad—and which, he hopes in turn, will rouse corresponding pleasures among readers at large. Even if these performances are news to you.