A Scott Rudin, Patrick Healy Kerfluffle

Whoa! Producer Scott Rudin has some fightin’ words for New York Times journalist Patrick Healy in today’s ABCs.

Scott Rudin Patrick Healy Testament of MaryPresumably the tiff has something to do with this interview Healy conducted with Testament of Mary playwright Colm Tobin. Perhaps Rudin chafted at Healy’s contention that The Book of Mormon, another Rudin show, was somehow financing MaryWhat do you think?

 

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Best of 2012!

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Listmakers rejoice! It’s time for the annual “BEST OF” catalogue! Buckets of theater got produced this year, and below are the Official Theater-Words Favorites. (Some publications distinguish between “best” and “favorite.” Not here. Calling something a “best” but not a “favorite”—or vice versa—is like pretending you’re not, y’know, a subjective human being.)

But first, some preemptive thoughts: This list is heavily skewed towards off-Broadway—only two Broadway shows appear—and only three musicals were thrilling enough to make the cut. Sad times for Broadway, sad times for musicals.

But not sad times for theater! The following shows were united by a moment-to-moment vitality and artistry; they were distinguished by the imaginative ways that vitality was expressed.

(BTW, on-the-road employment being what it is, this list is weighted towards the first half of the season. Apologies to the fall, but I just wasn’t around.)


And now, in roughly descending order…

 

1. THE BIG MEAL (Playwrights Horizons)
Without a doubt the best play of the year. Both theatrical and humane, Dan LeFrank’s family drama elevated the commonplace to the level of profound, rather like that most perfect of plays, Our Town.

 

2. PIPPIN (American Repertory Theater, in Boston)
Coss your fingers, New York—ART’s Pippin is spectacular, and you’d be lucky to have it. Equal parts ear-to-ear smiles and musical theater chills, this show was the most fun I’ve had at a tuner in years.

 

3. UNCLE VANYA (Soho Rep)
A super cool, immersive set invited the audience inside the living room of this beautifully acted play. As much a “happening” as a production.

 

4. FEBRUARY HOUSE (Public Theater)
Director Davis McCallum and company turned down the volume in this intimate off-Broadway musical about art and the world, to beautiful effect. Gabriel Kahane’s score made you eager for more.

 

5. CLYBOURNE PARK (Broadway via Playwrights Horizons)
It’s all been said before, but really, this intelligent time-travelling race relations play was a blast, and featured some of the dirtiest jokes ever.

 

6. THE GREAT GOD PAN (Playwrights Horizons)
This was an odd, disarming play with a killer premise: a man learns he may have been molested as a child, but he remembers nothing. Did it happen? Does it matter? A seemingly slight play that stuck to your bones.

 

7. THE LYONS (Broadway via the Vineyard Theater)
Linda Lavin got lots of praise in Nicky Silver’s fantastic black comedy, but Michael Esper (and most everyone) was just as good. A great entertainment.

 

8. LOOK BACK IN ANGER (Roundabout Theater Company)
The claustrophobia and, yes, anger in this production were thrilling and eerie. A creative, uber-narrow set hit things home. Not a date show, to its credit.

 

9. MERRILY WE ROLL ALONG (City Center Encores!)
The Encores orchestra playing this Sondheim score was pretty unbeatable. And really—is there a better finale than “Our Time”? Not that I’m aware of.

 

10. AS YOU LIKE IT (The Public’s Shakespeare in the Park)
Daniel Sullivan’s production hit home the redemptive parts of this otherwise overproduced Shakespeare, making the play seem vital and generous.

 

So here’s to you, 2012! Glad to have you, here’s your coat, get home safe. Say hi to 2013 on the way out.

Theatour!: Clowes Memorial Hall


Antiquity isn’t the only way to a theater geek’s heart—for proof, check out Clowe’s Memorial Hall, just outside Indianapolis, IN. If You Give a Mouse a Cookie played this alternately solemn and warm space for one short day, and we all enjoyed getting to perform in one of our first postwar, non-school theaters.

Like the National Theatre in London, Clowes (rhymes with “stews”) has a brutalist, Ziggurat-y exterior (above) that belies a somewhat softer and more colorful interior (below). Red velvet and nice lighting always do the trick, don’t they?

Note the boxes—narrow, cascading riverbeds of concrete that roll towards the stage.

Also of interest is the austere proscenium which makes no latter-day approximation of gold leaf or cherubs. Concrete and hard edges are everything.

The staircases, visible in the atrium, are equally grave but cool.


The theater is about to celebrate its fiftieth anniversary, but thanks to good upkeep, doesn’t look it. Maintenance is ongoing: New carpeting and seats will be installed in the coming months.


The space isn’t devoid of funkiness. Sound panels on the ceiling are arranged in a depth pathwork whose appearance changes as you rise from one balcony to the next.

And then there are the actors, sure to funkify any room. Witness the lovely Adrienne Brown, primping in the recently renovated, spacious dressing rooms.


For more cool architecture in the style of Clowes, visit the awesome blog Fuck Yeah Brutalism for a sweet overdose. And for those more inclined toward the classic spaces, fear not: more old theaters are on the way.

UPDATE: ****** Clowes architect John Johansen died yesterday, at age 96. For more, click HERE.

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TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, does not endorse the opinions of theater-words.
All photos by theater-words.com.

TheaTour!: The Smoot Theatre

Just off the shore of the Ohio River in Petersburg, West Virginia sits the beautiful Smoot Theatre, where I made a recent stop with my touring compatriots. (You may remember that I’m part of a traveling kid’s show—read more here and here.) The Smoot impressed us all with its classy historicity.

One of the first things you’ll notice in the Smoot is the intensity of the mezzanine’s rake. It’s quite steep, so much so that a local theater op told me “people always get dizzy up there.” Good thing, then, that there’s a unique, wooden railing bordering the lower edge of the level. Also worth noting are the colors of the seats. It’s hard to make it out in my shoddy iPhone photos, but those in the mezzanine and the front of the orchestra are red, while those to the rear of the orchestra are blue. Kooky but fun, huh?


See what I mean about  the rake? Watch your step, indeed!

The stage has remained untouched since the Smoot opened in 1926, and (unlike most decks) is unpainted. Interestingly, it’s made out of two different materials: hardwood is farther downstage, while softer wood is upstage. Why? It’s easier to secure sets to the softer wood.


Like most Vaudeville houses that saw fortunes decline in the years following the depression, a movie studio (Warner Bros. in this case) bought the theater and turned it into a film house. Though the theater has now returned to legitimacy (after a close encounter with demolition in 1989), the beautiful, antique projectors still point to the stage from a booth at the rear of the mezzanine.


As a movie palace, the Smoot made use of the Vitaphone, a contraption that heralded the end of silent film and the birth of the “talkies.” (The Vitaphone, as any theater geek knows, is a key plot point in Kaufman and Hart’s classic Once in a Lifetime: “He first turned down the Vitaphone!” Anyone?) In a great move, the folks at the Smoot recently repainted this “sensational” advertisement:

Backstage are some nice relics…

…and the dressing rooms (separated by the original brick—no plaster, thank you very much!) are wonderfully romantic.

All in all, she’s a beaut, so much so that all of us onstage felt like we were on Broadway—the space somehow elevates you, makes you feel like what you’re doing matters.

Good stuff all around.

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TheatreWorksUSA, the producer of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, does not endorse the opinions here reflected.

All photos by theater-words.com.

Let’s Chat! with Adrienne Campbell-Holt

Enough about the Tonys, already—let’s go back Off-Broadway!

While lots of big, downtowny institutions sit dark over the summer, plenty of scrappier companies buckle down and brave the hot months. Case and point: Colt Coeur, a can-do ensemble founded in 2010 now on its third production, Eliza Clark’s Recall.

Colt Coeur’s first outings, Steven Levinson’s Seven Minutes from Heaven and Lucas Kavner’s Fish Eye, earned the company the kind of pull quotes many an uptown theater would kill for. The Times called Heaven “so real you almost believe it was written by one of its characters” and New York Magazine titled its review of Fish Eye, “Bringing Sexy Back to Off-Broadway.”

Behind this bringing back of sexy is artistic director and founder Adrienne Campbell-Holt, who directed all three productions. I chatted with her after catching a preview of Recall, a chilling, dystopian take on childhood psychosis (think We Need to Talk About Kevin meets Minority Report). Our phone conversation covered the play, the downtown scene, falling scenery, and everything in between. Enjoy excerpts, below.

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Why did you want to produce Recall?

I’ve always been a bit of sci-fi nerd—I love Philip K. Dick—so when my agent sent me the script, I fell in love with it right away. I had also just read the book Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro, which made me feel drawn to Recall’s alternate presence world and the menacing possibilities of it. I also really loved the book The Road, and I felt Eli’s writing had elements of that sci-fi alternate presence, while also being really firmly grounded in reality and truth. At its core it’s a mother/daughter story, a love story where all the characters are trying to protect someone.

The play’s pretty freaky—how do you go about making scary theater?

In theater there’s this opportunity to let things go unseen—it’s scarier what we don’t see, like in The Blair Witch Project. So, [in the play’s climactic final moments] not seeing the room fill with water is scarier and makes us think of more different things. Some people have said, “It made me think of the gas chambers,” or, “It made me think of burning people.” All these horrible things!

It’s so delicate. If we had a much a greater budget and unlimited resources, maybe we would’ve had to choose to be sort of expressionistic. Instead, our constraints forced us in that direction.

What’s the terrain like for young companies like Colt Coeur—is New York hospitable, or are things tough?

You probably got a sense on Saturday night of how tough things are. Everybody worked around the clock in the few days before previews started to build the set, but part of it fell on an actor’s head five minutes before 8 o’clock. That’s terrifying for me because, of course, safety first, and because it rattles the company. That night was also a really small house, and we had been full the night before—I feel like that’s representative of how hard and uneven it is.

When I was twenty two, I started a company in New York called Nest. It did well and it was fun, but I was naïve and had no idea how hard it was. When I started this company, I was in a different place maturity-wise and with connections, and it really helped to start it wish a group of artists that I trusted. I think that’s the most important thing when you’re starting a company, that you’re all working around the clock for zero dollars, and believe in it, and that you’re having a good time with each other.

Fortunately, the first two shows were received well. Some of the powers that be, like the Roundabout people, have been really positive, which helps. Also, a lot of the actors in the shows ended up signing with big agents and our costume designer just won a Tony for Peter and the Starcatcher. So, it’s cool that they still want to work on these shows.

Do you get the sense that the things for downtown companies are different now than they were 10 or even 20 years ago?

I used to work at the Wooster Group, and when they would talk about the 60s and 70s, I would get so jealous and nostalgic for that time—it must’ve been great for there not to be like 300 million different downtown theater companies! Now there are just so many.

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The “Most Promising Season Award” goes to…

Playwrights Horizons! Woohoo! Oh, the honor, oh the glory!

But really, was there every a question? Playwrights is always pretty great, but 2012/13 looks like it’s going to be SENSATIONAL. Any lineup that includes Annie Baker AND Amy Herzog AND Greenberg/Frankel/Korie, plus many others, is pretty much the bee’s knees by me. Here are the tantalizing titles and their respective slots:

1. DETROIT, the “better than Broadway” slot.
Initially scheduled for the Rialto this past spring, Broadway’s loss is Playwrights’ gain: Anne Kauffman is sure to steer this tale of economic woe into the tragic stratosphere. Oh, and it’s already got a Pulitzer nom. Whatever.

2. THE FLICK, the “our young writers are better than yours” slot, Part I.
If you don’t already love Annie Baker, you should. She writes plays, not plays that want to be movies, and her latest—something about the last 35 millimeter film projector in New England—practically screams “beautiful! melancholic! theatrical!” Resident genius Sam Gold helms.

3. THE GREAT GOD PAN, the “our young writers are better than yours” slot, Part II.
First of all, there’s the brilliant title. Secondly, there’s the super hotshot team of rising stars Amy Herzog and Carolyn Cantor. Thirdly… I don’t even know. I just want to see this.

4. FAR FROM HEAVEN, the “2013 Tony Awards” slot.
Let’s be real: this one is gonna charm the hell out of Mr. New York Times, skip east to Times Square, reopen “with sharper focus and impossibly fuller performances,” and clean up at the Tonys. Because with Richard Greenberg, Scott Frankel, Michael Korie, Michael Greif, and Kelli O’Hara on board, IT SHOULD.

5. THE WHALE, the “The Book of Mormon for off-Broadway” slot.
Aside from telling the story of a 600-pound man (!!!), this one’s about Mormon country, and Mormons are where it’s at right now. So, Sam Hunter’s play is bound to be all zeigeisty and amazing. Davis “I directed February House, what what” McCallum leads the way.

6. THE CALL, the “you’re going out there a youngster but coming back a star” slot.
Not gonna lie: Never heard of Tanya Barfield, the brains behind this one. But Leigh Silverman is directing, and, as In the Wake and Go Back to Where You Are as my witnesses, she and Barfield are sure to deliver.

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So congratulations, Playwrights. May your season charm, upset, anger, entertain, enliven, scramble, and uplift us into theatrical ecsatsy. Cuz that’s what good plays do, y’all.

Poster Analysis: “Anything Goes”

As anyone who took a taxi in the past year knows, Sutton Foster was the beginning and the end of the marketing for Roundabout’s Anything Goes. Photographed for that show’s poster, heels up with a cheeky grin, Foster was everywhere.

But seasons change: Now that Foster is stuck on TV (thank you, “Bunheads”) and Stephanie J. Block is click-clacketting her way through Reno Sweeney’s paces, what’s become of those old shots?

One word: paint.

Let me take you back. Here’s a “Foster-era” poster:

But this is the image currently adorning the Stephen Sondheim Theatre:

Notice anything different?

The second figure—while just as lithe and rambunctious as the original—is more “Foster-esque” than “Foster.” Yes, she’s a white sailor with an admirable waistline, but she’s not fully Sutton Foster. By rendering Foster’s image in paint instead of photo, the specificity of the show’s original star gives way to something more general and flexible. Any number of performers look sort of like the second image; there’s only one that looks like the first.

As always, it’s interesting watching a hit show find its sea legs without its deal-making, original star. Here’s wishing Stephanie J. Block and all future Renos best of luck—they might not get the ol’ camera treatment, but what was good enough for Van Gogh sure is good enough for me.

Extra! Extra! Extra!

The Interwebs might be fun, but for a writer, there’s nothing like a good old fashioned print edition––hence my excitement at the January’s American Theatre magazine, which ran a feature article I wrote on assisting in the theatre. The story is excerpted below, but you can download a full PDF HERE, or read a (sadly picture-free) web version HERE.

Or you could, you know, read the print edition. But why be all 1999 about it?


I Get a Sidekick Out of You

It’s 10:30 on a wet October morning in New York City, and the south rehearsal room at Playwrights Horizons is starting to hum. Trickling into the windowless hall are actors, designers and administrators who shake off the rain, graze at the festive snack table—it’s almost Halloween—and exchange familiar “hellos.” Today is the first rehearsal of Jordan Harrison’s Maple and Vine, initially seen at last year’s Humana Festival and now making its New York premiere under the direction of the prolific Anne Kauffman (Stunning, This Wide Night, God’s Ear).

By the time Ilana Becker rolls in, the room’s almost full. Goofy, quick to laugh, alternately focused and irreverent, Becker is Kauffman’s petite, brown-haired assistant. Becker has already attended some prep meetings for Maple and Vine, but as she notes her spot at the rehearsal table—close to Kauffman, naturally—it’s impossible not to sense her first-day excitement.

As an assistant, 28-year-old Becker belongs to a breed of unknown yet well-connected young directors, adjuncts to some of the theatre’s most important figures. An assistant director’s work can be mundane (buying salads) or creatively significant (suggesting cuts), but it always involves some interpersonal sixth sense, a faculty for knowing what directors need or don’t need, preferably before they do. Ideally, assisting is a chance to observe and help a master at work. Practically, it’s the clearest way for a young director to get her foot in the door….

Finish the article HERE (PDF) or HERE (web).

Broadway on 9/11

Check out Playbill.com’s poignant video about working on Broadway on 9/11:

Part II can be found here.

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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Inside the Playbill Plant

This is neat — check out what goes on at the Playbill factory in Queens:

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