Italian playwright Dario Fo did not attend the Broadway opening of his Accidental Death of an Anarchist last month—he has been steadfastly denied entry into the U.S. because of his alleged political activities (see this month’s Government section). His distinctive voice is being heard, nevertheless, on Broadway as well as at widespread resident theatres where his satiric works continually grow in popularity.
Accidental Death is a totalitarian farce based on an actual incident and set in a Milan police station. The New York production has been adapted by playwright Richard Nelson and directed by Douglas C. Wager, who first worked together on the play last season at Washington’s Arena Stage. Featured in the cast are Jonathan Pryce, Gerry Bamman, Joe Grifasi, Bill Irwin, Patti LuPone and Raymond Serra.
Another production of the play, this time adapted by San Francisco Mime Troupe director Joan Holden, is running through Dec. 16 at the Eureka Theater in San Francisco, under artistic director Anthony Taccone’s supervision. Denver audiences will have their chance to see Accidental Death in spring at the Denver Center Theatre Company, under the direction of Jerry Zaks.
Who says Fo is unwelcome here?
The reverse situation applies to East German playwright Heiner Müller, whose plays have met with official disfavor—and often been banned—in his native East Berlin, but whose work is greatly admired and widely produced in West Germany, all over Europe, and lately in the United States. Müller is the only East German playwright who has free access to the West. His Hamlet Machine is currently having its American premiere at New York’s Theater for the New City, under the direction of East German Uwe Mengel (who, unlike Müller, was forced to escape permanently from his home in the ’70s, by hiding in the trunk of a car). Hamlet Machine, an experimental adaptation of Shakespeare’s masterpiece, examines the conflict of East and
West, not within the arena of politics, but in the world of the contemporary intellectual who can cross borders, but whose works and ideas must be left behind. Although he insists it is not an autobiographical work, the concerns are certainly very personal ones.
The play was first presented in Paris in 1979, and since then has been seen in West Germany, Poland, Belgium, Switzerland, Austria—and in South Africa, where it caused controversy while receiving great acclaim. Müller, who is considered by many Europeans to be the most important
German-language dramatist since Brecht, collaborated with Robert Wilson on the West German production of the CIVIL warS, and each has acknowledged the strong influence of the other. The two are planning another collaboration in the near future.
When the Soviet drama The Dawns Are Quiet Here made its American debut at the McCarter Theatre Company last month, the house reverberated with gunfire. Originally produced at Moscow’s Taganka Theatre under the direction of the now-exiled Yuri Lyubimov, the play tells the story of an anti-aircraft company comprised entirely of women, stationed in a remote area of Russia in 1942.
The McCarter production was directed by Alex Dmitriev, former associate artistic director at the Manitoba Theatre Centre. Dmitriev selected Gregory Piatigorsky to be his musical director, infusing the production with an authentic Russian spirit: Piatigorsky had served for four years as music director of the Taganka, and lived most of his life in the Soviet Union.
In addition to working on the original production of The Dawns with Lyubimov, Piatigorsky wrote several original musicals for the Taganka, including a rock-and-roll piece entitled Under the Skin of the Statue of Liberty, with lyrics by Soviet poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko.
Dmitriev worked with a literal translation of the Taganka script—originally adapted from a novel by Boris Vassiliev—by Alex Miller. In his words, the translation served as “a skeleton around which I created my own vision of the poignancy and tragedy of war.”
Midwest audiences are sampling “the best of all possible worlds” as two productions of Leonard Bernstein’s musical Candide touch down in Omaha and Chicago. At the Goodman Theatre, Eve Bennett-Gordon demonstrates how to “glitter and be gay,” in a production so successful that the theatre has extended its October run through Dec. 16. At right, Dr. Pangloss (Jerry McLean) tutors his earnest students Maximillian (Don Richard), Cunegonde (Kelly Ellenwood) and Candide (Geoff Stephenson) in the Nebraska Theatre Caravan version of the play. The Caravan also has a spring tour of Candide in the works.
When Mark Lamos trod the boards of the Hartford Stage Company last month performing the title role in Arthur Schnitzler’s Anatol, it was his first acting job since the 1978 Broadway production of Man and Superman. But then, he’s been busy—serving as artistic director of that theatre as well as directing at Ontario’s Stratford Festival and other places. The play—actually a compilation of seven of Schnitzler’s early sex farces—mockingly exposes the double standards of late 19th-century Vienna. Here Patricia Mauceri toys with the hapless Lamos, whose Anatol is more accustomed to being the seducer than the prey. Lavish sets and costumes were provided by Hartford veteran John Conklin.
Greeting the Season
Tiny Tim’s crutch and those iron chains belonging to the Ghost of Jacob Marley have come out of storage again—it’s the Christmas Carol season for no fewer than 20 theatres from Seattle to St. Paul to Houston. Whether or not you agree with A. Theodore Kachel that this holiday classic provides a trenchant morality tale for our wayward times (see his Opinion column in this issue), it’s certain that its popularity shows no sign of declining. While many theatres have settled on their favorite—often original—adaptations to revive year after year, new versions of the story continue to surface. Some, like Adrian Hall and Richard Cummings’ Trinity Square/Alley Theater incarnation, are musicals. Doris Baizley’s adaptation, now a Cleveland Play House tradition, begins with an itinerant acting troupe preparing to rehearse the Dickens tale. But through all the variations rings the true Dickensian Christmas spirit of love and charity.
A few other works are becoming holiday staples: The Gift of the Magi, which for several seasons has been a part of the Actors Theatre of Louisville’s repertoire (along with A Christmas Carol!), can be seen in new adaptations at the BoarsHead: Michigan Public Theater and the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Entitled The Gift of the Magi and Other Holiday Tales, the St. Louis version of the piece, by Kim Bozark, includes adaptations of two other O. Henry stories as well—“Whistling Dick’s Christmas Stocking” and “The Chaparral Christmas.” Four productions of Alan Ayckbourn’s Season’s Greetings are currently on view, and though this sex farce may present a somewhat more…worldly view of the holidays, it certainly provides its share of laughter.
Original seasonal plays—some new, some traditional—include Amie Brockway’s adaptation of Dickens’ Cricket on the Hearth, appearing at Theater of the Open Eye along with its annual Holiday Dance Festival; The Big Holiday Broadcast, developed by Seattle’s Bathhouse Theatre and presented at Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park; Santa’s Christmas Miracle, an original musical on tour by Richmond’s Theatre IV; and A DellArte Christmas, developed and produced by the Dell’Arte Players Company of Blue Lake, Calif.
Many companies choosing to sidestep Christmas plays have opted instead for musicals, providing another kind of lighthearted backdrop for the season. From Peter Pan to Guys and Dolls to A Little Night Music, stages are set for a tuneful December. On a more serious note, the Hartford Stage Company has taken the occasion as an opportunity to present the medieval Mystery Plays, adapted by John Russell Brown and directed by Mary B. Robinson.
Finally, a coincidence. Three theatres—Arena Stage, the Seattle Repertory Theatre and the Mark Taper Forum—have chosen December to present the Peter Nichols drama Passion Play. The work has nothing to do with the holidays—could it be the title that lured them in?
Some of America’s best known actors recently donated their services in a unique nationwide theatre event. To mark Nuclear Freeze Week and help raise funds for various anti-nuclear organizations, simultaneous readings of William Gibson’s new play Handy Dandy were presented around the country during mid-October thanks to the generosity of Gibson, who waived his royalties.
The two-character work involves a 72-year-old nun found guilty of trespassing while protesting at a nuclear weapons plant, and the district court judge who must sentence her to prison. While Gibson insists that it is not a propaganda play, the moral combat that ensues raises some of the most pressing issues of our time.
Teamed up to read the play in New York were Jane Alexander and Jerry Orbach at the American Place Theatre: Geraldine Fitzgerald and E.G. Marshall at the New York Shakespeare Festival; and Crystal Field and George Bartenieff at the Theater for the New City. In Westport, Conn., Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward read Handy Dandy for an invited audience, and at the American Conservatory Theatre in San Francisco, Peter Donat and Joy Carlin filled the bill. Others scheduled to perform the work included Julie Harris, Richard Dreyfuss, Ed Asner, Colleen Dewhurst, Michael York and Ben Vereen.
For theatregoers who missed the readings, a full-scale production of Handy Dandy, directed by Arthur Storch, opens at Syracuse Stage on Dec. 14 prior to a scheduled Broadway run.
A deranged Sir Giles, played acrobatically by David Manis, flies into a rage upon hearing of his daughter’s clandestine marriage in The Acting Company’s À New Way to Pay Old Debts. Directed by artistic director Michael Kahn, the rarely produced Jacobean satire written by Philip Massinger is on tour nationwide through May, in repertory with Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth. In February, the traveling troupe expands its rotating bill to include Shakespeare’s As You Like It.
The Gospel at Colonus is alive again, in several incarnations. The celebrated production of the music-theatre work—a gospel version of Sophocles’ classic story featuring some of America’s leading gospel performers—is currently running at Arena Stage in Washington. Lee Breuer and Bob Telson created the work, which premiered during the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 1983 Next Wave Festival. Clarence Fountain and the Five Blind Boys of Alabama, the Original Soul Stirrers, the J.D. Steele Singers and the Brooklyn Institutional Radio Choir recreate their roles in the piece at Arena, through Dec. 30. Gospel is also available on an original cast album recently released by Warner Bros.
Corridos, a folk musical conceived and directed by Luis Valdez for his company El Teatro Campesino, recently toured to the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego. Composed of vignettes based on popular Mexican ballads and stories, Corridos is the culmination of the company’s experiments in a new form of music theatre. The piece was fully staged for the first time last year at San Francisco’s Marines Memorial Theatre, where it swept the Bay Area Drama Critics Circle, garnering 11 awards. Its San Diego run was greeted with a similarly enthusiastic response.
Vincent Dowling, the new artistic director of California’s PCPA Theatrefest, left his last job with a bang. Dowling recently ended a nine-year career at Cleveland’s Great Lakes Shakespeare Festival with an updated outer-space version of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, assisted by the local research center of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. NASA donated 300 space slides and and a number of other pieces of equipment, including a talking robot—who played the role of Philostrate, Master of the Revels. According to Dowling, the text itself was not changed. He got his inspiration from Puck’s line, “TIl put a girdle around the earth in 40 minutes.” NASA’s participation also marked the 25th year of its Cleveland facility, the Lewis Research Center.
Four young directors had distinguished assistance in a new and unique program established by the New York Theatre Workshop. Entitled the New Directors Project, the four emerging talents, chosen after a nationwide search, were paired with established director/advisors on a series of professionally designed and acted studio productions presented last month at the Perry Street Theatre. They were Pavel Kohout’s War on the Third Floor, directed by Elizabeth Diamond with the assistance of Andre Gregory; The Grand Hysteric and the Box by Sheldon Rosen, directed by Thomas Riccio, advised by Kenneth Frankel; Victor Steinbach’s My Life in Art, directed by Rebecca Harrison under the supervision of A.J. Anton; and A Fool’s Errand by Christopher Ceraso, directed by Jim Peskin with the advice of James Lapine. Artistic director Jean Passanante and project director Peskin hope to establish the program on an ongoing basis.
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