“Artistic Ruins”?

John Stezaker, 2005, Cinema 1 II (Collage)

Jerry Saltz writes an accurate indictment of the visual art world in this week’s New York Magazine. His argument—contemporary art “contains safe rehashing of received ideas about received ideas”—just might apply to the theater: are we muddled in “a melancholic romance with artistic ruins, homesick for a bygone era”?

The full article can be found here; read on to check out excerpts…

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Fleet Week on Broadway

REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

Fleet Week is the unofficial opening day of summer in New York. Uniformed sailors float in for sweaty city fun, wandering the streets in search of a sweet, tangy bite of the Big Apple. The men and women are homogenous émigrés in sea of dissonant color and style, beacons of sameness in a city that idolizes individuality.

Paradoxically, it’s those very uniforms that stand out most in a crowd, a fact apparent at a Fleet Week performance of “Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo” I attended.

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Carey Mulligan Back Onstage

photo by Simon Annand, from "The Half"

Brits call it “the half”: that 30-minute stretch before curtain when actors prep for a show. This ritual is the subject of Simon Annand’s photography anthology (“The Half”) documenting the makeup, cigarettes, and shabby glamor of British backstage life.

Annand’s book is a kind of theater-snob’s US Weekly, an artfully shot black and white collection of vulnerable, beautiful stage celebrities. Flitting through the pages is like binging on fine, dark chocolate: it’s glorious.

In the above photo Carey Mulligan preps for a 2007 performance “The Seagull” at the Royal Court. (The photo’s wonderful schism between décor and costume is typical of “The Half.”)

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With the Cast of “War Horse”

Wonka and Charlemagne

I saw several drunken horses—real horses!—stumbling out of P.J. Clarke’s last Sunday night after the Tony Awards. “Humans kid themselves that they can drink like horses,” slurred Rojo, a standby for “War Horse.” “But we put your breed in its place tonight.”

Moments later, two others on a carrot break joined in. Charlemagne and Wonka, who play “Joey” and “Topthorn,” assented: “We just knew we were going home with the big prize tonight.” (“War Horse” took six Tonys back to the stable, including one for best play.) “We had to celebrate proper. We’ve drunk maybe twelve bottles of JD between the two of us.” All three snorted and stomped.

The horses generally get along with the human cast members, said Wonka. “There’s a bit of tension over the different unions”—horses are covered by Actors Equinety—“so there are small differences in how management treats us.” (Horses get extra physical therapy but have to attend promo events for the breakfast TV shows.)

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Poster Implants

London may be theatrical mecca, but British ad firms have a decidedly trashy bent when it comes to marketing shows: shiny, bubbled, or bedazzled lettering. 2D, classy type just doesn’t cut it. If you want to be a populist, West-End hit, you need implants. Examine the evidence.

Here in America, “Rock of Ages” is simple and shiny:

… but in London, it’s gotten the Agelina Jolie treatment:

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Report from the Capital

Hear ye, hear ye! I come with word from the mainland!

London, that is. New York might flatter itself the center of the universe, but it’s the British First City that can lay true claim to that most exclusive of titles: Play Capitol.

A certain kind of play, that is – one that’s smart, sharp, political, thorough, current, historical (or at least aspires to be), and comes served in plummy, accented tones which cover all manner of sins.

The most exciting, anglophilia-inducing entrée of my recent trip to England was “London Road,” a new, verbatim musical playing the National’s Cottesloe Theatre. Its subject – the murder of five prostitutes – is conventional enough stuff (!), but it’s the telling of this tale that elicits those wonderful shivers signifying the arrival of the New.

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