Friday, March 30, 2007

On the North Coast

Ferndale Repertory Company celebrates its 35 years in REPFEST35 with day-long events on Saturday, March 31, culminating in a Celebrity Dinner and Auction, hosted by Bo Foxworth, a Ferndale Rep alum (and son of current A.D. Marilyn McCormick) who is now a noted Los Angeles stage and screen actor (among his recent stage roles were Touchstone in As You Like It and the title role in Hamlet.)

Earlier in the day there's a Ferndale Rep Alumni Reunion and other events involving the community, and celebrating the storied history of this important North Coast theatre. Both the Reunion and the dinner are likely to be among the social highlights of the year.

There's more information at the Ferndale Rep site. Congratulations, Ferndale Rep--and many happy encores!

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Young Actors Guild Production of Cyrano de Bergerac last weekend
in the Gist Theatre at HSU. Photo: Eureka Reporter, Laura Provolt.
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This Week's Column

North Coast Rep and Prep

My column with reviews of North Coast Rep's Henry IV Part One and North Coast Prep's Cyrano de Bergerac is online at the North Coast Journal site. Curiously, it is the only review of Henry IV published so far. Neither the Times Standard nor the Eureka Reporter chose to review it in their weekend arts sections, though Laura Provolt gave a rave review of Cyrano in the Reporter.

There's more I could say about Henry IV and the North Coast Rep production, but one thing I wish I could add to my review is the observation made by one of the actors in the Julie Taymor film version of Titus Andronicus (which we're watching on DVD this weekend): that Shakespeare is the toughest acting job around. It's generally true of directing, too.

But its an essential challenge to take on. Just yesterday as I scanned the stands at Northtown Books as I was leaving, I saw three periodicals with articles on Shakespeare featured on their covers. There are always new books as well as new productions.

Shakespeare is vitally important to theatre, but also eternally relevant to theatregoers. The questions of the legitimacy and authority of the monarch that are central to the cycle of history plays that includes the Henry IVs was a live question to Shakespeare's first audiences, facing the aging Queen Elizabeth who had no children or obvious heirs to the throne. Today, one can muse on the story of Prince Hal in view of our current monarch, George II: also a bad boy in his youth. It seems that with Afghanistan and Iraq, he may have seen his chance to become the heroic Henry V hero. Maybe he actually sees himself that way. It would seem so. And that's his tragedy, as well as ours.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Endless Stage

I saw two shows on local stages this weekend, Shakespeare's Henry IV Part I at North Coast Rep, and Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac performed by the Young Actors Guild of North Coast Preparatory, at Gist Hall Theatre. As it happens, roles in these two plays were notable triumphs for the great English actor, Sir Ralph Richardson (seen here in a 1981 photo by Lord Snowden.)

Richardson played Falstaff in Henry IV Part 1 twice. The first time he was a new member of the Old Vic in 1930, and shared the stage with Laurence Olivier as Hotspur. The next time was in 1945 and 1946, in both parts of Henry IV, with Olivier as Hotspur in Part 1 again. Richardson's interpretation was new: he played Falstaff not as a belching vulgarian, but as a dignified lover of anarchy, a portly Quixote. He won great acclaim in both London and New York when the Old Vic was in repertory there in 1946, and returned the role, fallen into disrepute in modern times, to the ranks of the great parts.

He played Cyrano later that year. When the roles came up for the Old Vic season that fall, he had first choice as senior member. He chose Cyrano, although Olivier coveted the role. Olivier knew that Richardson wanted to play Lear, so he chose that role, assuming that Richardson would want to trade. He didn't. Olivier's only stage Lear was controversial--some thought him too young, but others (including Noel Coward) thought it was a brilliant re-conception and performance. But Richardson's Cyrano was a unanimous triumph. As Cyrano is also a kind of Quixote (which he admits during the play), it seems Richardson found common threads of bedraggled honor and stubborn romance in both parts.

As it happened, Richardson was knighted during the run of Cyrano, so he became Sir Ralph Richardson then. This added its own panache to the role that personifies that quality.
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Audience Beware

Let this be a warning that should be posted in the North Coast Rep lobby during the run of Henry IV, Part 1: Audience members are warned to keep their seats during the show, and those sitting in aisle seats are cautioned not to lean too far into the aisles. For at numerous and unpredictable times, actors will be running at full speed in the aisles, from behind the audience towards the stage, some of them armed with spears. Failure to heed these warnings could result in serious injury.

Theatre is supposed to be dangerous, but short of being physically dangerous to the audience. There was an epidemic of open flames on local stages a few years back, at least once in close company with highly inflammable material that I uncomfortably witnessed. Audience complaints, producer sanity or more active fire safety people--or some combination of these--put that practice out.

Some people complained of noxious fumes, particularly cigarette smoke, coming from the stage, so non-tobacco smoke with posted warnings is now the norm. The latest fashion that probably needs to be addressed is the increasing use of the audience's part of the theatre by actors during the performance. The stage is no longer enough. Actors declaim from the seats and the aisles, and particularly, make their entrances onto the stage from the "house."

There are certain dramatic advantages, or there were before this became commonplace: the element of surprise, the novelty of wrapping the show around the audience rather than limiting the perspective to audience facing the stage.

However, there is a problem: the audience. The "house" is their space. If the audience stays off the stage, they have a reasonable expectation that the actors will not invade their space, preventing them from movement within it. This is more than etiquette: it is a matter of health and safety, particularly when--as in the current North Coast Rep production--the house aisles are regularly used by actors running onto the stage. Sometimes they do so shouting, which merely threatens temporary deafness to the unwary. But they are moving at such heedless speed that the next patron who feels the call of nature at the wrong moment, may wind up a casualty of the long-ago English wars being depicted.

I hope it does not take such an injury, and the resulting lawsuit, to suggest that this practice be abandoned.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

This Week's Column

In this week's Stage Matters column in the North Coast Journal , reviews of Chekov's The Cherry Orchard and David Lindsay-Abaire's Rabbit Hole at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland. (Also a roundup of what's coming this weekend to North Coast stages.) The photo is from OSF's The Cherry Orchard.

A few days after our visit to Ashland, the 2008 OSF season was announced. It will be the first for the new Artistic Director, Bill Rauch. Notable differences are the first modern classic to appear on the outdoor Elizabethan Stage (Thorton Wilder's Our Town) and a production of the Sanskrit epic, The Clay Cart. The full 2008 lineup is on the OSF site.
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Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On the North Coast


My very part-time, hourly gig doing some basic gathering, organizing and disseminating of information for HSU Department of Theatre, Film & Dance productions, limits what I can write about HSU shows in the Stage Matters column I write for the North Coast Journal, which is also a very part-time gig, paying a flat per column rate, with no benefits or expenses.

I was hired for both gigs at roughly the same time, and both parties knew of the other possibilities before I was hired, and both knew and approved of my commitment to not review HSU shows in my column.

Out of some 32 columns, I wrote something substantial about HSU shows in four, with this basic disclosure. Conflict of interest is a complex issue, and there are many factors involved, particularly in terms of ordinary practice here in Humboldt. I’ve been writing and editing professionally for about 35 years, and my integrity has always been important to me. I’ve made some substantial sacrifices based on principle, and in general I believe my past supports my ethical commitment. I understand the difficulties and I certainly feel the awkwardness of this situation, but basically, my conscience is clear. As conflict of interest is also a matter of appearances, I leave those judgments of what the Journal publishes to its editors.

But I do face the dilemma of a different sort of conflict as theatre columnist: between the appearance of a conflict of interest, and my responsibilities in covering North Coast theatre. To put it simply, no column that purports to cover North Coast theatre can possibly ignore HSU theatre. In terms of quality, of its unique contribution in the plays and the theatre it does, and its place in the theatre and general community, it must be part of the mix, just as Dell’Arte is, or North Coast Rep or Ferndale Rep. I want to be fair to all, and that means being fair to HSU as well.

But in the past year or so, I discovered that if I did not write about HSU theatre, then nothing about these productions appeared in the Journal. That’s a disservice to Journal readers as well as to all the people involved in HSU theatre and dance. It’s especially missed since the Journal lives in Arcata, and so does HSU.

Recently I took this concern to my editors at the Journal, and received their assurances that they will make an effort to ensure that somebody covers HSU theatre in its pages. So I don't have to write about it in the Journal, and that particular conflict issue won't pertain.

My writing about North Coast theatre is still incomplete without writing about HSU. (Plus they do plays there, and plays are what I like writing about best. There are only so many ways I can describe juggling or evaluate somersaults.) So I will continue to write about HSU shows here in my online space. I am master here, and I know my interest in plays and performance, writers and actors, etc. far outweigh my supposed financial self-interest based on a review.

I initially posted a much longer discussion of conflict of interest issues, and many more details about myself. But upon reflection, I decided to simply make this statement and move on.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

CLOWNS WITHOUT BORDERS are giving two benefit performances on Saturday, March 24 at 2 PM and 8 PM at the Arcata Dancenter. Proceeds support local performers going to Mexico and other countries. Rudi Galindo sent along these photos.
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Photos from my Ashland trip

outside Ashland, early AM. BK photo.
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Good place for breakfast: the Wild Goose Cafe.
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Kids lining up at the Bowmer Theatre.
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The next day--spring!
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heading home
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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

On the North Coast

This Weekend..

Dell' Arte first year students present their annual program of Melodrama this weekend, Thursday through Saturday, March 15-17 at the Carlo Theatre in Blue Lake. Six student-written and acted 15 minute plays "explore moral dilemmas, neurosis, obsession and the struggle against repressive forces. "

Here is my preview of last year's show, which discusses the concept and practice of melodrama.

$7 general and $5 for students/seniors. The Thursday performance is "pay what you can. "For mature audiences. Reservations: 707-668-5663 Ext. 20. Visit for more information.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Live Blogging from Ashland

Season Preview

We're in Ashland--actually, a motel on the fringe of Ashland, right next to the Rogue River National Forest--to see some plays at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. We saw Tom Stoppard's On the Razzle last night--and it's likely to be one of the hits of this, Libby Appel's last season as artistic director. Today it's As You Like It for the matinee, and The Cherry Orchard tonight. Am I dreaming? Not likely, since I got almost no sleep last night. But after the Shasta Breakfast at the Wild Goose Cafe, I'm great. For now. These plays may look like a dream as the day goes on.

All the plays except the one we'll see Saturday before returning will play through the summer, so it may be awhile before I write about them in the Stage Matters column. We're already talking about when we'll return, to catch several of the plays that start later, especially August Wilson's Gem of the Ocean --which will be the first of his plays I've seen anywhere but Pittsburgh, several times with him in attendance. And then the big productions in the outdoor summer theatre, which is an experience I haven't had yet.

Again, even this early in the season, what's great about this other than the high quality of the productions is the audience. Last night was weighted towards high school students in groups on one end, and gray-haired couples at the other, with a decent sized minority of folks in between. But the audiences are alive. Right now, here in the motel lobby/breakfast nook, there are several h.s. students and their teacher, here for plays. I have yet to see the smirks and slouches of the cynical and unwilling, though some of the conversations indicate that at least some of these kids participate in theatre in their schools. I caught a bit of several last night talking excitedly about the stage set, and how the entrances and exits were managed. This is always how it gets passed on. The future of theatre in the seats.

Next trip we hope to see some other theatre here. There's one advertising: Men On Skates: The Wisconsin Ice Fisherman's Musical. Which could be a case of a title too funny for the play to live up to. If it's here when we come back, maybe we'll see.

By the way if you're wondering, the Journal doesn't pay a cent of my expenses, for this or any other trip.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

The TV Stage

Harold Pinter on Charlie Rose
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The TV Stage

Pinter and Misha on Charlie Rose

On the Charlie Rose Show site, you can see his interviews broadcast Thursday and Friday with playwright and 2005 Nobel Prize for Literature Laureate Harold Pinter, and legendary dancer Mikhail Baryishnikov. The Pinter interview contains some of Charlie at his worst--taking it upon himself to defend the honor of the U.S. against Pinter's analysis of war and imperialism, and not only badgering him but giving us way more Charlie than we need in what is likely to be one of the last lengthy TV interviews Pinter will do. Still, Pinter didn't lose his composure or seem offended--he even seemed to be enjoying himself-- so maybe their relationship made this an expected encounter. The rest of the program is quite good but I still could have done with more Pinter, more theatre talk and less hectoring from CR.

Pinter provided a few peeks into how he approaches the process of writing and doing theatre. David Mamet says that Pinter and Beckett brought poetry back to the theatre, but Pinter said he valued producing exciting theatre. In responding to questions about his tremendous influence on writing for the stage, he talked about the writers who excited and influenced him. He could see their singular visions, but not his own; writing is doing. "The only thing I can really say about my work," he told Charlie," is that it makes me laugh." His tactic is to get a laugh, and then shut it up.

The interview was done in December, as Pinter finished his run starring in his friend Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape. There was no video from that performance, but I hope it was recorded. Not only is it likely to be a superior performance with great insight into the play, but Pinter's last stage appearance. At age 76 and weakened by cancer, he said several times that he's written his last play, though he still writes poetry. For all his dour themes and politics, he seemed to have thoroughly enjoyed his writing life, not only his more than two dozen plays but his nearly two dozen screenplays.

As for his politics, he recalls the experience of being bombed and seeing the effects of bombing during the London Blitz more than 65 years ago, when bombs were much less powerful than now. "I understood what bombing is, what bombs do," which, he said, leaders don't comprehend or won't face: the death, mutilation and destruction that results from political gestures.

The Baryishnikov interview was often the opposite of Pinter's--much more Misha than Charlie, and quite easy and good. He seems like a terrific person--very generous in his comments on others, philosophical about his own choices, but honest, and very articulate. He always struck me as a singularly civilized man. He talked about more or less backing into the movies--his first role, in The Turning Point, was supposed to involve just dancing, but bits of dialogue were added on the set, then more, then more, and he became a major character. But what he remembers is watching Shirley McLaine and Ann Bancroft act. Charlie showed a dance from another film, White Nights, with Gregory Hines. Hines was a great dancer, and kept up very well with Misha, but there were differences--Hines used his arms a lot more, which may have been style, but it also seemed that Misha didn't need to--he moved so economically, with no wasted motion, and perfect control.

He also talked about seeing every kind of movement as dance, and remembering how people move, even if he can't remember their faces or names. There were a few moments of him dancing now, at the age of 59. Despite 11 surgeries, he still has that grace and economy and perfect control. An inspiration, to be sure.

Thursday, March 1, 2007

On the North Coast

The Weekend Review

A rave review of Cloud 9 at HSU by Meghan Vogel in the Times-Standard... A feature by Wendy Butler in the Eureka Reporter on the Dell'Arte MFA students project working with the Eureka Adult School’s Traumatic Brain Injury class to create and present a theatre piece called Snap! Laura Provost previews the Ferndale Rep teen production of Hamlet: Through the Looking Glass, also in the Reporter.