Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Small Bea Arthur Tribute

Due to my being out of town this weekend, I haven't yet been able to write on Bea Arthur's death. The NY Times has, as usual, a wonderful obit, and my friend Leonard Jacobs has put together a great series of clips of her work (which I have not yet seen in its entirety). But here's my slightly more personal tribute to this exceptional woman:

1) The Golden Girls had a pretty major influence on my life, as it did for many people. I first watched it with my grandmother when it was new, and I had no idea what was going on. I later rediscovered it in Lifetime reruns, and it has been making me laugh since. All four of the stars did wonderful work, but Arthur's Dorothy was the glue that held the show together. It was silly and cliched, sure, but what wit and fun and good acting! I only wish someone had the guts to write a really clever show for some great older character actresses today.

2) "Bosom Buddies" from Mame is priceless, period. Who else could more than hold her own opposite Angela Lansbury?

3) Perhaps my favorite of her roles, though, is as Lucy Brown in the 1954 Off-Broadway The Threepenny Opera. I'd put the disc of Marc Blitzstein's exceptional translation, also starring Lotte Lenya, Jo Sullivan, and Scott Merrill, on my list of ten cast albums to take to a desert island, and Arthur's performance is a major reason why. She sings on only two songs--the "Jealousy Duet" and the "Barbara-Song," and her performance on the latter is particularly gorgeous. Biting wit and heartbroken sincerity at the same time, all in that unforgettable baritone. She does full justice to Brecht's lyrics and intent--we are emotionally affected and aware that we are listening to a performer at the same time--while singing the hell out of Weill's music. It's a treasure--track it down. Hell, I'll even lend you the CD, just ask.

Yep, she was a treasure. We're lucky to have gotten so much exceptional work from her.

By the way, does anyone know if Maude is on in reruns? Or have DVDs of it? It was apparently wonderful, but I've never seen an episode. Can someone help me out?

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Debate on Ruined

Well, as tends to happen, people have all sorts of things to say about Ruined, and its Pulitzer win. The most interesting conversation is happening over at Kris Vire's blog. Kris didn't manage to see Ruined, but based on his colleagues' positive but far from rave take on it, he didn't think it worth chasing down. He speculates, however, that it may have won its Pulitzer more due to the subject (the war in the Congo and the ways that women are abused there) than the quality. I, among others, disagree with his assessment--I think Ruined is anything but a dutiful, dull issues play--but it's turned into a really thought-provoking discussion. Read it and leave comments with Kris or me. Does anyone else who has seen it (or even who hasn't) have a take on it? Any reactions to the conversation?

Monday, April 20, 2009

Ruined Wins Pulitzer

As has been reported all over the place, Lynn Nottage's Ruined won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama, announced this afternoon. The play premiered last November at the Goodman, making it the second play in a row to premiere in Chicago and go on to win the Pulitzer (after last year's August: Osage County). Granted, Nottage is a New York-based writer and the premiere wa a co-production with Manhattan Theatre Club, but still, it's quite a good sign for our city's theatre scene.

I saw the production at the Goodman (Thanks, Elizabeth Neukirch, for slipping me in to a student matinee along with other friends of the theatre!) and think that the accolades are well-deserved. The play, set in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, is definitely realistic in style, and doesn't really push boundaries stylistically. However, it is a painfully moving, gorgeous show. It shows the audience a world that they probably have never seen or considered and  intimately involves them in lives very different from their own. At the same time, it avoids the tedium and preaching of so many plays about important, depressing issues. I'm curious to see how it does in future productions--the script and Kate Whoriskey's production seemed so integrated that it's hard to tell how the script would look in a different version.

The runners-up, by the way, were Becky Shaw, by Gina Gionfriddo (whose After Ashley  was produced at Stage Left last fall to great acclaim), and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Quiara Alegira Hudes' In The Heights (building on their Tony wins from last year.) A good slate this year, I'd say.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

What did I spend the fall doing?

So remember last fall when I was at Northlight Theatre, working as a literary/dramaturgy intern? Here's some proof of what I was doing all that time. As part of my work on The Lieutenant of Inishmore, I put together this little piece on the work of Martin McDonagh, to help acquaint audiences with his work--and his approach to violence. To get excited for the show, you can read it here. Enjoy!