Friday, November 30, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

Margaret Thomas Kelso, author of Relative
a play about the families of
prisoners, opening at HSU this weekend.
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This North Coast Weekend

Big news around here is the opening of Margaret Thomas Kelso's new play, Relative Captivity at HSU. It's apparently big news elsewhere, too: front page banner at the T-S and cover of Northern Lights with preview by Betti Trauth...Front page banner in the E-R and front of art section lead preview by Wendy Butler. Preview in the Arcata Eye this week, too. The show runs Thursday through Saturday this weekend and next, 7:30 in Gist. Much more at HSU Stage. (That's my favorite of the photos taken for the show by Kellie Brown of HSU Graphic Services. Nobody else used it, so I will.)

By the way, if you see the show, Margaret is very interested in hearing your response. This is the play's absolute first production, and responses are helpful in taking the script further. You can get it touch with her directly, or leave your response here, or at the HSUStage blog.

(As some of this blog's readers are in England and such places--and I'm not making that up--I'll note again that Margaret is my partner, and I did the publicity for the show, as I do for all shows produced by the Humboldt State U. Department of Theatre, Film & Dance.)

There are two other shows that had mid-week starts but one weekend performance left, both on Friday:

“Anéis de Saturno” (“Saturn’s rings” in Portuguese), the result of a two month collaboration between Dell'Arte International School second year students and Guest Faculty Artist Carlos Simioni of the Brazilian theater ensemble, Lume Teatro. It's Friday at 8 at the Carlo Theatre. Info: Dell'Arte.

And the touring Broadway production of Mel Brooks' The Producers, Friday at 8 at the Van Duzer, via CenterArts. I saw it Wednesday and it's very impressive and a lot of fun.

Continuing: Hunting of the Snark, the Dell'Arte Christmas show, continues at various locations. Betti Trauth loved it at the T-S, Willi Welton had reservations about the script in the E-R.

Also continuing: Fiddler on the Roof at NCRT and Charlotte's Web at Ferndale Rep.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Othello on Film: Olivier

Frank Findlay as Iago, Laurence Olivier as Othello.
Though this is a black and white still, the 1965
film is in color.
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Othello on Film: Olivier

I didn't realize until I read another review of the show that in my review I hadn't noted that Jabari Morgan, who played Othello at the Arcata Playhouse, is black. Partly that's because he gave a great performance as an actor, regardless of any additional category. But also I suppose I realized that discussing the racial politics of this role would take more words than I had in the print version of the review.

Othello is called a Moor, which could refer to a number of racial types. He is called (and calls himself) black, but that's a dodgy term historically. Even in the early 20th century America, some Italians were considered "black."

There has been a great scholarly argument especially over whether Shakespeare was referring to a North African-- a lighter-skinned Muslim Berber, or a darker skinned sub-Sahara African. In terms of Shakespeare's time in England, it could go either way. The internal evidence within the play is ambiguous, though I tend to be more persuaded by the Berber interpretation.

Nevertheless, it has become standard that actors of southern African descent have a corner on the Othello role. Now in the early 21st century it is so much so that when Patrick Stewart wanted to play the role, he did so (in Washington, D.C.) with a completely reversed cast--all the other actors, including Desdemona, were black.

But at least until the 1960s, the role was often played by white men in dark makeup. There may not have been enough black actors in England until the 20th century but the racism was overt in the U.S., where even the play itself was not allowed to be performed in some places in the South because of the interracial romance, regardless who played the parts. And even when the great African American actor Paul Robeson wanted to play the role, he had to play it in England first (opposite Peggy Ashcroft) before getting that opportunity in the U.S., more than a decade later. But Paul Robeson's performance opposite Uta Hagen in 1943 is one of the most famous American Othellos, and a tremendous hit--it played more than twice as many times on Broadway than any Shakespeare before or since.

Which brings us to the movies. The most famous filmed version of Shakespeare's Othello has to be the 1965 movie with Laurence Olivier as Othello. Olivier played Othello as a dark African, with something like a Caribbean accent. "I had rejected the modern trend towards a pale coffee-colored compromise," he wrote in his autobiography. He designed his own three layers of makeup, which took three hours to apply. He had prepared for the role by doing vocal exercises to deepen his voice. His stage performance was one of the triumphs of his career.

Though the filmed version of the stage production (with Frank Findlay as Iago and young Maggie Smith as Desdemona) was shot in just three weeks on obvious stage sets, there is enough camera movement to qualify it as a movie. Olivier often used external changes (he was famous for building new noses for himself) to get him in touch with the internal identity of the character. In this case he wanted to feel "black to my very soul."

In 1965, in the midst of the Civil Rights movement in the U.S. and more obvious racial variety in England, Olivier risked a lot, and he got a lot of criticism for--some said-- playing a stereotypical black, in an interpretation that made Othello's heritage a key to his passionate behavior. Others felt it honored the reality of a black character.

By contemporary standards, at the very least, Olivier overdoes it at times. But his portrayal is still powerful, and provides plenty of opportunity for debate, about Othello and race, separately and together. Though Olivier later wrote that the role is essentially unplayable, his acting is gripping at times.

Findlay played Iago with a working class accent, and later films would adopt and extend this approach.

Othello on Film: Hopkins, Fishburne

Laurence Fishburne as Othello, Kenneth Branagh
as Iago in the 1995 Othello.
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Othello on Film: Hopkins, Fishburne

Less well known is the BBC version of Othello, directed by Jonathan Miller in 1981 with Anthony Hopkins as Othello and Bob Hoskins as Iago. The casting of Hopkins did cause controversy because of his race. The role had been offered first to James Earl Jones (who played it in the U.S. opposite Christopher Plummer as Iago) but the British unions wouldn't allow the role to be played by an American. They wanted a British actor of African heritage. What the real politics were in all this is impossible to know.

Hopkins had played the role on stage, although in recent years he's referred to it as not a success. In fact, when he auditioned as a young man for membership in Olivier's National Theatre, a speech from Othello was nearly the only Shakespeare he knew. When he offered it at his audition, Olivier--who was playing the role on stage at the time--cried "You've got a bloody nerve!" Then Olivier expressed nervousness that Hopkins might do it better. When Hopkins finished, Olivier offered him a place in the company. "I don't think I'll lose any sleep tonight," he said, "but you're awfully good." (Olivier became a mentor to Hopkins, who later became so adept at imitating Olivier's voice that he was hired to dub in some of Olivier's lines in the restored version of Spartacus.)

But in contrast to Olivier, director Miller has Hopkins play Othello as a light-skinned Moor, more Arab than African. Viewers today may well find Hopkins' wild hair a bit much, but like Olivier's very different take on the role, he is compelling to watch. More than in these other films, Hopkins' Othello seems to be rebelling against killing Desdemona until almost the end, when Iago applies his most naked pressure, attacking Othello's masculinity. And when Iago's treachery is revealed, the understanding of how he was skillfully duped that comes into Hopkins' eyes, sets up the rest of the scene: his relatively calm farewell speeches, salvaging some honor in his dishonor, and his suicide.

His Desdemona is Penelope Wilton (known these days to Doctor Who fans--such as myself--as Harriet Jones) but it is Bob Hoskins as Iago who delivers a truly great movie performance in what is even an less cinematic version than Olivier's, except for the remarkable closeups (especially of Iago as he devises how to trap Othello, and Othello as he is about to go into his fit.)

Hoskins makes his every thought eloquent by facial expression, voice and body movement. Even the way he walks tells us about the character. He plays Iago as a working class conniver, an improviser who makes mischief and manipulates his "betters," apparently for his own amusement, just to see them make fools of themselves. He's barely suppressing his laughter in the very first scene, and his scorched mirth is evident many times throughout. But as the play moves to its bloody conclusion, his laughter became almost constant and psychotic. Yet there is still the air of the trickster about him.

Since this was part of the BBC project to film complete versions of all of Shakespeare's plays, this is the most complete text available on DVD. And it does seem to me that some of the supposed mysteries of motivation etc. are cleared up by lines that are often cut.

The most recent filming of Shakespeare's actual play that I know of is the 1995 version starring Laurence Fishburne as Othello and Kenneth Branagh as Iago. Filmed on location in Italy, it is the most scenic version--beginning with a long shot of Othello and Desdemona (played by Irene Jacob) in a gondola. As it approaches, Othello puts a white mask in front of his face.

This film flirts with this very racial interpretation as well as a few others, without being very consistent about any of them. For example, the Freudian disciple Ernest Jones argued that Iago had a homosexual crush on Othello--an interpretation that Olivier tried when he first played Iago in the 1930s on an uncooperative Ralph Richardson as Othello. In this film there is one scene where Branagh makes a blatant move in this direction, but that's about it.

Laurence Fishburne has worked on stage as well as on TV and in the movies, notably in August Wilson plays. He gives Othello a dignity and authority, and, like Hopkins, is very calm at the end. He plays Othello as intelligent, sensitive and too trusting and naive. Branagh's Iago owes much to Hoskins', (as indeed does A.J. Stewart here in Arcata.) There are some nice cinematic touches by director Oliver Parker--eyes that literally glow green, Iago knocking chess pieces into the water and then the bodies of the dead dropped into the sea. It's an inconsistent but often provocative and always watchable film.

One other interesting interpretation is of the key character of Roderigo, the first of the nobles that Iago manipulates. In the Olivier version (as in the Arcata stage version), Roderigo is mostly just dim. In the BBC version, he's dim but also proud, easy to flatter. But in this version, Michael Maloney (who stars in one of my favorite unknown films--about a ragtag company playing Hamlet--directed by Branagh, also in 1995, called A Midwinter's Tale) plays Roderigo as excessively passionate and impulsive. Which he plays very well.

Othello on Film: Welles

Orson Welles as Othello in the
1952 film version he directed.
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Othello on Film: Welles

The first of these Othellos to be filmed, but one of the last to be seen, was directed by Orson Welles, who also played Othello. This film's history is an epic journey. It started in the late 1940s, when Welles--a Hollywood outcast at the time--was filming his vision of Othello in bits and pieces, between paying film work and when he had the money. He filmed it in various locations throughout Europe, wherever he happened to be.

The film was finished in 1952, and released in the U.S. in 1955, to very mixed reviews. After being shown in only three theatres, the film essentially disappeared for the next three decades. Thought completely lost, a print was found in 1981, but still it was not really seen until the film was restored in 1992: exactly forty years after Welles completed it.

And "completed" is a relative word. The restoration was far from perfect, and the shoestring budget shows up in some bad dubbing and a few awkward effects. But apart from all that, it is very close to magnificent.

At least as a piece of moviemaking. This is the most cinematic of Othellos on film. The words are Shakespeare's but the editor is Welles--he tells the whole story in about 90 minutes. It begins with a montage of the funerals of Othello and Desdemona, while Iago is hoisted to his punishment. These opening scenes, the black and white cinematography, the framing, askew camera angles and silhouettes are reminiscent of Bergman, and later of Kurosawa and even Fellini.

Welles started out directing theatre, including Shakespeare--he created the famous Federal Theatre Project production of an all-black Macbeth during the Depression. He knew the plays, and by this time he knew moviemaking, too. So he could re-imagine the text as a film script--for example, by showing Othello's epileptic fit from Othello's point of view, as he wakes.

Iago is played by Micheal MacLiammoir, an accomplished Irish actor, who later wrote that Welles instructed him to play Iago as a repressed homosexual, fixated on Othello but in an impotent rage--once again, a variation of the Freudian via Ernest Jones theory. It doesn't clarify the play, nor does Welles performance, but the movie does--and it is striking, even amazing to look at.

Suzanne Cloutier played Desdemona--blond, lovely and so young she's growing up on screen, over the four years it took to make the film. She probably looks more the age imputed to Desdemona in the play, and has the beauty to bewitch Othello, but I didn't sense any sparks between them. That's something lacking, it seems to me, in all these films. Maggie Smith was nominated for an Academy Award for her performance in the Olivier version (as was Olivier), and Irene Jacob and Penelope Wilton give fine performances in their films, perhaps even true to Elizabethan mores, but the central romance remains a convention and Desdemona's part in all these films is too much as a cipher to be satisfying.

Friday, November 23, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

"Hunting of the Snark" is this year's
holiday show from Dell'Arte.
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This North Coast Weekend

It’s a Lewis Carroll Christmas! Both Dell'Arte and Ferndale Rep have Lewis Carroll themed Christmas shows. First up this weekend is Dell’Arte with The Hunting of the Snark, an adaptation of the famous Lewis verses. It premieres Friday and Saturday at the Carlo Theatre and moves to various locales for free shows, beginning at the Van Duzer at HSU on Sunday. Schedule and details: Betti Trauth previews it at the T-S.

NCRT's ongoing production of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof got its round of reviews: mine in the NCJ, Betti Trauth's at the T-S and Willi Welton's in the ER are all quite positive.

Also in the ER, Wendy Butler reviews the ongoing Charlotte's Web at Ferndale Rep, and offers some observations on reviewing community theatre. Betti Trauth reviews it at T-S.

Willi Welton reviews the Shake the Bard production of Othello, in it's final weekend at the Arcata Playhouse.

I'm running a little behind here, but I hope to post soon on the film versions of Othello and about an intriguing theory about the play I found. Then more on Fiddler on the Roof.

Monday, November 19, 2007

David Hamilton collage of Othello at Arcata
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Othello in Arcata

When Venice was a great power, its most trusted military leader was Othello, a Moor. In secret, Othello wooed the daughter of a Venetian noble, Brabantio, and as the play opens their secret marriage is about to be revealed. Iago, a trusted officer who may or may not be seriously aggrieved at being passed over as Othello’s second in command, and who may or may not really believe that Othello seduced his wife, is certainly out to get Othello from the play’s first beat.

When Iago’s first attempt—turning Brabantio against Othello—isn’t enough, he devises a plan to convince Othello that his new wife, Desdemonia, has been unfaithful with Michael Cassio, who conveniently is the officer who got the job as Othello’s lieutenant that Iago covets. It works, all too well.

Much of this story was found in the Italian tale that Shakespeare adapted, but besides the histrionic themes of jealousy, envy and carnal passion, the play is riddled and beset with questions. What is Iago’s problem? Why is Othello so easily convinced and moved to violence? Some of the most famous productions in Shakespearian history have tried to address these and other vexing questions in a play that continues to fascinate audiences.

The production of Shakespeare’s Othello, Moor of Venice by Shake the Bard Theatre Company currently at the Arcata Playhouse makes good use of this intimate space to focus on the dynamics of the play itself. A traditional but minimal set (conceived, designed and created by David Hamilton, Jack Freeman and Sam Neuwirth respectively) is complemented by Pat Hamilton’s handsome and evocative costumes, and Gabe Groom’s suggestive sound design. Director David Hamilton has employed some cunning stagecraft to keep the action on track and to focus particular moments. The result is a clear and creditable production, with solid performances, including a brilliant, thrilling one—and a virtual clinic on acting Shakespeare-- by Jabari Morgan as Othello.

Morgan’s interpretation is well-considered and creative, and its skillful expression rivets your attention. From his first entrance and his first calmly, warmly resonating words, his Othello is every inch a general, until this shock unhinges him, and he struggles against a kind of madness. Morgan’s masterful physical (including vocal) effects in the second half of the play are dazzling, but I was just as impressed by his precision in the first half, when he is alive to every moment. Too many actors, especially in Shakespeare, feel the need to indicate with gestures the meaning of the words. Jabari Morgan acts the words, and every actor should watch his performance to see the difference.

Iago presents his “honest” face to others, but exposes his malevolent intentions to us in soliloquies that poet and critic W. H. Auden thought should be played “slightly mad and with terrific gaiety,” which aptly describes how a cavorting A.J. Stewart performed them. He indulged in a bit too much indicating for my taste (is it really necessary to mime heart on a sleeve?) and his lighting accented an evil brow a bit too obviously. He was most effective and disconcerting playing the calm and solicitous public Iago, and his creepy grin in the final scene chillingly illuminated both sides of the character. He also matched Morgan’s power in some key scenes together.

Erik “Rez” Peterson is efficient in the mostly functional role of Cassio, a self-consciously upright aristocrat with a weakness for arrogance and wine. Rich Chase plays the pawn Roderigo with a trusting dimness that makes him Iago’s effective tool, yet with the sense of wrong that leads to Iago’s undoing. Abe Green has one of the better voices, and as a younger than usual Brabantio, he can stand toe to toe confronting Othello. Darcy Daughtry has a small but winning role as the reputed strumpet, Bianca.

Jennifer Trustem is a fiery Emilia, Iago’s wife as well as Desdemona’s lady-in-waiting and staunchest defender. As Desdemona, Jay Shepherd emphasizes her naiveté, and together she and Trustem create a very effective (at least when audible) scene on what would soon be Desdemona’s deathbed, employing dialogue that has Shakespeare sounding like an Elizabethan feminist, with the gender equivalent of his more famous “has not a Jew eyes?” aria in The Merchant of Venice.

What past ages called passions, and attributed to temperament, culture, class and race, we may reflexively consider psychological or mental illnesses. In our culture Iago may remind us of psychopaths and sociopathic serial killers, Othello perhaps as psychotic or even schizophrenic; Desdemona as abuse victim. There is scholarly support for the idea that both Othello and Iago were victims of physical maladies known to have mental effects (Othello’s epilepsy being long associated with satanic possession, demoted in Shakespeare’s time to obsession.)

But even so, as David Hamilton claims in his program note, these characters all represent aspects of ourselves. Many will recognize some misguided Othello in authority, or the Iago of the office, complete with cascades of malignant consequences. All of the main characters—including Desdemona, Emilia and Cassio— are flawed and make small mistakes that conspire to the tragic end. As Desdemona muses, “How foolish are our minds.”

This show wasn’t an unqualified triumph the night I saw it—there were some weak moments, diction problems, and unhelpful lighting, especially in the final revelation scene. But it’s well worth seeing, and Jabari Morgan’s performance is not to be missed. This Othello plays one more weekend.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

Denim Ohmit as Wilbur and
Nicole Cowan as Charlotte in
Ferndale Rep's production of
Charlotte's Web, opening this
weekend. Photo: H.R. La Bue.
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This North Coast Weekend

Ferndale Rep begins the holiday season tonight (Thursday, Nov. 15) with its production of Charlotte's Web, the classic story by E. B. White (in paperback, it is the best-selling children's book of all time), written for the stage by the veteran children's story adapter and playwright, Joseph Robinette. The Rep has assembled a cast of 27, directed by Carol Martinez, with scenery and lights by Gary Franklin and costumes by Vikki Young. Though the play brings barnyard animals alive to the delight of children, its themes of friendship, active affiliation and courage in the face of the unchangeable cycles of life make this a story for families to share. The play runs through Dec. 16. Betti Trauth previews it at the T-S.

Also opening Thursday is the North Coast Rep production of the classic musical Fiddler on the Roof, which plays through Dec. 15. More on this next week.

Thursday is the second of two midweek performances of Evita by the touring company, presented by CenterArts at the Van Duzer Theatre. You're going to have to really like Andrew L. Webber for this one.

Last but not least, the Shake the Bard production of Shakespeare's Othello continues at the Arcata Playhouse. I reviewed it at the Journal, and Betti Trauth reviewed it at the T-S. Both of us praised Jabari Morgan's exceptional performance as Othello, and suggested theatregoers not miss it, just for that. I hope to have much more here on this show and on the play, especially the movie versions, as the week goes on.

Critic vs. Playwright vs. Critic

It's an old story, but always interesting when it's revived. It's also usually a New York story, as it mostly is this time. First the Critic--Charles Isherwood of the New York Times--wrote a piece urging playwrights who'd gone to Hollywood to write for TV to use their downtime during the current Writer's Guild strike to return to writing plays for the theatre.

He probably meant it as a "light" and clever, gently chiding little piece, but writers on strike don't find much humor in it, and one playwright--Jon Robin Baitz--took umbrage on other accounts as well. In the process, he goes after the New York Times critics with some precise criticism of his own.

Both pieces are very interesting reading, especially Baitz's. He calls for critics to have some humility, and I can't argue with that. But I don't read these New York Times critics much so I don't know about his specific characterizations of them. I was interested, however, that among the "good" critics he names by contrast he includes former NY Times critic Frank Rich (someone I did and do read, someone in fact I knew and worked with, and about whom there will be more here very soon). Because when playwrights complained about critics a couple of cycles ago, they were often complaining the most about Frank Rich, who they dubbed the Butcher of Broadway. Those castigations were mostly unjustifed then; I have no idea if Baitz is right about the critics there now.

But what Baitz says about the real lives of playwrights is important, and important for those interested in American theatre to know, including (if not especially) critics and writers about theatre. Check it out.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

On DeMark, Get Set--

Go to the HSU Studio Theatre for two performances of Jeff DeMark's show about the wonderful world of crap jobs, Went To Lunch, Never Returned. The shows start at 7:30 pm on Thursday and Friday (Nov. 8-9). Tickets are $7, $5 students/seniors, benefitting HSU technical theatre students. The Arcata Eye has a brief preview.

Opening this week is a production of Shakespeare's Othello by Shake the Bard at the Arcata Playhouse. Preview Thursday, and opening weekend Friday and Saturday, beginning at 8pm. Jonathan Glen previews it at the T-S.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

George Bernard Shaw. How many
of his plays would have survived
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First Principles

Let Playwrights Be Playwrights

In general, "play development" is work done on the text of a play before it is produced, so it has to do principally with the playwright and the writing. There are two kinds of play development that make sense to me: in an academic setting, where students works on the plays they're writing with a teacher or mentor, and when the playwright refines the script in the course of getting it ready for a production. And even these require some caveats.

These days, play development has also come to mean a torturous path with many pitfalls for the playwright and the play, as the process becomes more concerned with money, and is increasingly often prolonged to produce income for the people or entity in charge of "developing."

Playwright Richard Nelson spoke about this process, and excerpts were published in American Theatre magazine. He goes at the primary assumption first: "what a playwright writes, no matter how much he or she works on it...the play will always be not right--will always need help. In other words, writing a play is too big of a job for just the playwright to achieve. This, I believe, is now a prevalent attitude in the American theatre. And this mindset is devastating."

As a result, Nelson said, playwrights who want to be produced know they have to submit to this process, and so "why finish anything?" He says that young playwrights tell him they purposely include badly written sections so that the "help" will be directed there, and not the parts of the play they care about.

The "help" by theatres comes about sometimes in commissions, which pay the playwright for the first draft and then for the rewrite, but basically the "help" is done to earn "participation"--that is, the piece of the play's profits in subsequent productions. This has become a new feature of the nonprofit theatre--a theatre that invests its time in "helping" gets some of the playwright's money if the play goes on to, say, Broadway. So if playwrights want their new play produced, they must go through this process of being helped, whether they want it or not, and then they pay for it, and keep on paying for it. Nelson thinks this stinks.

But that's not Nelson's only objection--he feels the process makes mediocre plays. A script is subjected to so many judgments--from producers, literary managers, dramaturgs, etc.--usually applying conventional wisdom about the rules for a good play. "Rules for writing plays. My god! One hears young playwrights being told what a play 'must do' or 'how a play works.' One hears writers being told that a character's 'journey' isn't clear enough, or that the writer needs to determine a character's 'motivation.' One hears how a play has to 'build' in a certain way, or how 'the conflict' isn't strong enough. These are terms that seem to suggest a deep understanding of what a play is and how it is put together, but in fact they tell us very little."

They're too general, for one thing, and they don't always apply. "To see how silly this prescription is, one has only to ask: What is the clear motivation of Lear?"

"The playwright doesn't write out of motivations but rather out of truth and reality, out of people and story and worlds he or she wishes or needs to create for us," Nelson counters. Plays can be written to formula, but they are formula plays. Sooner or later, plays are shaped by these conventional wisdoms, and they begin to all be alike. Even the process of play development itself has a leveling effect: Nelson says that since new plays are routinely subjected to mandatory readings first, but some plays--especially plays with lots of characters interacting but not always talking--don't come alive in readings. So playwrights write plays that do, for their own survival.

A certain style of play development has always been part of the American commercial theatre, but the route from nonprofit to larger commercial productions hasn't always been to the play's benefit. In Hot Seat, his collection of theatre reviews for the New York Times, Frank Rich remarks that "almost every play" that was transferred to Broadway from regional or Off Broadway theatres "was the worse for wear." Often this had to do with losing key actors or glitzing up the set, but sometimes it was the rewriting.

The exceptions he notes are plays by Tom Stoppard and August Wilson. How each of these playwrights approaches "development" is well documented. Though August Wilson took his plays through the O'Neill Center process (and later did say he felt pressured from time to time to be more conventional) he also always remained in charge of his own process, and the result. Later in his career, he rewrote solely on the basis of what he saw in rehearsals. Tom Stoppard does the same. In both cases, they rewrite not on the basis of "help"--though they both gratefully took suggestions from actors, directors and even onlookers--but on the basis of how the play was working as it was being brought alive, for that's the difference in playwrighting: it isn't just on the page. It has to work on the stage.

But what works on stage is also measured by what the world the playwright is creating. That may be a very eccentric world, and in this there is resemblance to other creative writing. Writing in the New Yorker about a new series of abridged classics, Adam Gopnik found the abridged version of Moby Dick was a perfectly serviceable novel--- "by conventional contemporary standards of good editing and critical judgment, improved," which means "a clean story, inhabited by plausible characters--the 'taut, spare driving' narrative beloved of Sunday reviewers."

The problem is, he writes, it's not Moby Dick. Melville didn't write "just a thrilling adventure with unforgettable characters but a great book. The subtraction does not turn good work into hackwork; it turns a hysterical, half-mad masterpiece into a sound, sane book."

There are lots of non-masterpieces that are only crazy, of course. But Gopnik concludes that "masterpieces are inherently a little loony." Can a masterpiece survive development? It's a question well worth asking.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

This North Coast Weekend

URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL in its final weekend
at HSU.
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This North Coast Weekend

URINETOWN: THE MUSICAL is in its final weekend at HSU, escorted by rave reviews by Betti Trauth at the T-S and Wendy Butler in the ER. The show starts at 7:30 tonight (not 8, which one review said) tomorrow and closing night, Saturday in the Van Duzer.

Productions of the HSU Department of Theatre, Film and Dance began starting shows at 7:30 last year instead of the standard 8 pm, and lately other theatres have been adopting it, though not consistently. So as experience shows (I missed a 7:30 curtain recently myself) it's best to double-check.

Speaking of which, Eureka High School is performing Larry Shue's The Foreigner tonight, tomorrow and Saturday at 7:30 at the school. It continues next weekend. Wendy Butler previews it in the ER.

On the other hand, the Dell'Arte Youth Academy performs at 8 pm tonight, outside the ongoing Dell'Arte Horror Experiment which continues this weekend in the Carlo Theatre. Ron Thunman has a preview at the T-S.

As part of the HSU campus Dialogue on Race, a production of The Colored Museum is in the Studio Theatre on Friday and Saturday at 8 pm. There is no admission charge.