Friday, April 30, 2010

Don't Tease Us, Adam

Playbill reports that a recent auction benefitting Playwrights Horizons offered as an item a page of music, signed by Adam Guettel. It's from RIP, his newest work, an opera based on Washington Irving's Rip Van Winkle. There is no information, thus far, on when or where it might premiere, though he does have a commission from Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, for the 2011-2012 season. (Though Wikipedia claims that the musical at Signature will be an adaptation of the Danny Boyle film Millions.)

Guettel has created a reputation as one of the best young composers in musical theatre. (Or youngish. How sad is it for the art form that a 45 year old is considered to be an exciting new voice?) But that reputation rests on a remarkably small body of work: two musicals Floyd Collins and The Light in the Piazza and one song cycle, Saturn Returns (recorded under the title Myths and Hymns). Since Piazza in 2005, Guettel spent two years working on a stage adaptation of William Goldman's The Princess Bride, scuttled because of a royalty dispute (Goldman wanted 75%, as he was the author of the original novel and screenplay as well as the book, even though Guettel was writing music and lyrics), a few bits of incidental music and scattered songs, and a lot of silence. It's awful that a man with the ability to write such stunning songs hasn't given an adoring public another taste. (In a 2003 profile he mention that addiction issues had hampered his work in the past. I hope this is no longer true.)

So what I'm saying is this: Adam, if you are putting out signs that we might get more of your music soon, follow through, dammit. Finish the show, make it brilliant, and make sure it gets produced and recorded. You're too damn good to keep us on the hook like this, and musical theatre fans need your brilliance.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Blog Exclusive Review: The Wreck of the Medusa

(Full disclosure: I went to The Plagiarists' Salon last Monday. They're a very friendly group, and I like them. But rest assured, this is an honest review.)

Nobody can ever accuse The Plagiarists of lacking ambition. The Wreck of the Medusa, their new play, written by Gregory Peters (though Ian Miller is credited as co-creator) and directed by Jack Tamburri, explores the worst naval disaster of the 19th Century from a dizzying variety of perspectives and styles. There are scenes from before the journey, leading up to the wreck, and the years after, pieces of an overblown melodrama based on the disaster, and a look at the creation of Theodore Gericault's famous painting about the disaster, and scenes are played as realism, parody, direct address, and even horror. Nearly everything onstage is interesting, and some is really fantastic, but the diffuse focus makes the play seems longer than its two hours and 20 minutes. It's hard to follow something that goes so many directions at once.

The story of the wreck itself is a grisly one--the Medusa was the head of a convoy going towards Senegal (a colony just being returned to French control in 1816) which took an unsafe course to save time, and was guided even worse by a charlatan (Steven Wilson) who convinced the incompetent captain (Andrew Marchetti) he was an expert in navigation. The ship struck a sandbar, and 150 of the 600 sailors and passengers were left on an overcrowded raft with minimal provisions. After insufficient efforts to tow the raft it was abandoned. When accidentally rescued 13 days later, only 15 survived, who had resorted to cannibalism to survive. Afterwards, the French government attempted to cover up the criminal negligence that led to the disaster and discredit those who told the truth, but Alexandre CorrĂ©ard (Greg Hess) and Henri  de Sevigny (Kevin V. Smith) published an account of the shipwreck which became a huge success.

No scenes take place on the raft, and this is wise--what stage depiction could live up to the actual horrors, or the ones we could imagine? But aside from that, the play seems determined to tell us everything about the wreck. It's like spending an evening with someone who recently became obsessed with the topic and read a bunch of books on it--everything said is fascinating, but the scattered nature makes it a little tough to follow.

But so much of it is really worth watching. The end of the first act, leading up to the wreck and the abandonment of the raft is riveting (I was reminded of the incompetence, before and after the storm, that made Hurricane Katrina such a disaster), and it is full of scenes and moments that are horrifying or beautiful. As a collection of scenes, performances, and ideas, it provides a lot of food for thought and feeling. The acting is on a consistently high level, with Hess, Smith, Griffin Sharps, and Wilson particularly strong. And the design is brilliant--William Anderson again makes a stunning set in a small space (full disclosure: he did the same for Here Where It's Safe at Stage Left), Anna Glowacki's costumes blend the period-accurate and the expressionistic, and Christopher Kriz's sound design is so evocative as to be almost physical, especially during the shipwreck.

For those of us hungry for new plays with real scope and ambition, The Wreck of the Medusa is very encouraging. If the creators got a little too excited by the possibilities and let the show get away from them, who can blame them?

The Wreck of the Medusa runs Fridays-Saturdays at 8 PM, Sundays at 3 PM at Angel Island, 735 W Sheridan Road, through May 9th. Tickets, $15-20, at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/98799

Friday, April 23, 2010

Neil LaBute Stays Classy

Many reasons to visit Time Out Chicago this week. The first is Kris Vire's review of Cabaret, which is remarkably similar to mine--great minds clearly think alike. The show has gotten a surprisingly mixed response (disappointingly including the Tribune), but it's good to have the validation that someone who's reviewed and seen way more plays than I have basically shares my opinion.

But even more awesome is Caitlin Montanye Parrish's review of Chicago Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. This version famously has a framing device written by well known contemporary scribe Neil LaBute, a playwright whose misogyny and misanthropy know few bounds, and whose movie career includes such classics as The Wicker Man. The response to the new material has been generally mixed to negative,  but for some reason LaBute (or someone claiming to be him), went on the warpath against Parrish. The initial comment was this:

"and the crazy thing is, ms. parrish, they PAID me to do it! i got to spew all that 'predictable bile' and they wrote me a check for the privilege. probably lots more than you got paid for your review. that hardly seems fair and yet there it is. the way of the world. you spew your bile, i spew mine, and may the best man (or whatever) win. "fuck this!" may not be a thesis or a revelation, but it's exactly what i was thinking when i read your sorry excuse for theatrical criticism."

And we were off to the races, with "LaBute" (we still have no proof whether it is really him) tossing nasty ad hominem attacks at Parrish (suggesting she see the show again and stop paying attention to the codpieces) and critics in general ("critics are the one element that is of little or no use to the creative process (and one of the very few who don't ever pay for a ticket!) even the audience lends some creative element to the experience of theater--the critic will always be reactive and parasitic. i didn't make it that way, it's just the way it goes.") and generally flinging vitriolic and nonsensical attacks at everyone. (Granted, people eventually started baiting him, because it was just so damn funny.)

Then this hilarious blog post was published by Eric Roach and Anderson Lawfer, and now LaBute has started attacking them as well ("Have fun being stuck in Chicago forever you talentless fucks," said he). So the joy will doubtless continue.

My main purpose here was to alert you all to the hilarity and assholery, but here are a few of my thoughts on this, for free.

1) Nice review, Caitlin. Clear, intelligent, made a persuasive case, fun to read.
2) Neil, do you really have nothing better to do? Really? If you got the "gigantic check" you said you did, why are you bothering yourself with this particular review? (And why didn't you attack the negative review in, say, the Tribune?) Why not just laugh all the way to the bank?
3) Are all critics parasites? Really? Even the ones who creamed their jeans over your early plays, and the ones who still do? Or just the ones who speak ill of your shows?
4) To end on a positive note: thank you for The Wicker Man. It is one of the most intensely entertaining movies I have ever seen. Granted, that is because it is howlingly misogynistic, ludicrously plotted, completely devoid of scares, and features Nicolas Cage at his looniest, but entertaining is entertaining.

Anyone else have a thought or two on this?

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

New Review Posted: Cabaret

Centerstage has posted my review of the new production of Cabaret that The Hypocrites are doing at the Storefront Theatre in the Loop. This one was particularly hard to fit into 300 words, so you all get the things I left out.

I'm wondering at this point whether Cabaret has an actual text left. Aside from possibly Candide, no show has had more significant alterations taking place. After the 1972 movie, most productions have dropped "The Telephone Song" (which is so much fun) and the original "Money Song" (it was called "Sitting Pretty" and featured only the Emcee--"Money Makes The World Go Around" was added for the film). Only about half of the productions use "Why Should I Wake Up?" and many add "Mein Herr," "Maybe This Time," and the new "Money Song" from the movie, not to mention "I Don't Care Much" a song that didn't make it in to the original production, and a song that I think is called "Don't Go Sally," whose provenance is unknown to me. (It's also probably the weakest in the score, though this production made me like it more than I remembered.) Meanwhile, different characters sing the creepily lovely Nazi anthem "Tomorrow Belongs To Me," depending on the version. This one actually sings it twice--the first time for the invented character of the Boy, the second in the familiar spot in the engagement party, while the production I saw in London used it as a pretext for a naked ballet, with no plot context whatsoever. (Yes, naked ballet. This was the nakedest show I've ever seen, and even that couldn't save it.)

The point being, Cabaret seems to have become a director's show--an opportunity for directors to use a play to make a statement. The fact that all four productions I've seen have used a different script is rather stunning--and I'm sure there are more versions out there. And just once, I'd like to see the original script. In a few years, I hope someone will have the anthropological courage to do the original version (maybe in 2016 for the 50th anniversary?). At this point, it would be a piece of theatrical restoration similar to what ATC will be doing next season with the original Chicago version of Grease.

That aside, however, this production is really wonderful. (Indeed, it's the first of those four productions I've seen that has been better than mediocre.) What's important is that in the initial scenes, it makes the Kit Kat Club looks like a lot of fun. The first act really is delightful (and genuinely sexy). This is a problem that so many productions face: the club doesn't just look seedy, it looks like a hellhole, with hostile Emcee and junkie dancers. (This became the default position after Sam Mendes' famed staging in the 1990's.) The problem is that if it looks so unappealing, it makes no sense that Cliff would stay more than a few minutes, that Sally would desperately want to return, or that the audience would have any investment in the place. It goes part and parcel with playing the end of the show at the beginning--too many versions make it impossible to ignore the Nazis from the start, which undercuts the power of the show at the end. The manic, sexy first act in this version doesn't even mention Nazis.

To respond to some criticism I've seen elsewhere: yes, it's unsubtle. I imagine if they didn't pull it off, the third act would feel like being bludgeoned repeatedly. But what can I say? It absolutely worked for me. One critic's pummeling is another's ballsy awesomeness, I suppose.

Anyhow, enough nattering. Here's the text of my review:

Few musicals have been altered more frequently than "Cabaret." Ever since Bob Fosse's 1972 movie radically rewrote the 1966 musical, it seems that every major production has made significant changes to the songs performed, their order, the book and more. And Matt Hawkins' new production makes some significant changes — making the Emcee into a woman (Jessie Fisher) and dividing the action into three acts, for instance. Purists could easily object, but what matters is whether the show works. And this bold, go-for-broke "Cabaret" works, spectacularly.


The story takes place in Berlin on the eve of the Nazi ascendancy: Cliff (Michael Peters), an American would-be novelist, falls in love with Sally (Lindsay Leopold), a self-destructive entertainer at the Kit Kat Club, which is overseen by the Emcee (Fisher). Their landlady (Kate Harris) falls in love with a boarder (Jim Heatherly), but politics and religion prove insurmountable boundaries.


The revolution of "Cabaret" is the way it balances traditional book songs with numbers in the club that comment on the action, and the most important reason that this production succeeds is that both halves work gorgeously. The cabaret numbers are surreal, dazzling and theatrical, and Fisher is marvelous, with a vibrant voice, wicked grin and real depth, but we also genuinely care about these people and their problems. We like the characters through the light and sexy first act and worry for them in the shadowed second, and so the third is absolutely devastating.


The cast is a huge help in this: Leopold, stripping away the showbiz melodrama that sometimes accrues to the character, is particularly riveting, and the entire ensemble of cabaret girls and boys (in Alison Siple's delightful costumes) provide excellent support to Fisher and create a compelling world. There's more good to point out (and a few small flaws, including inconsistent accents and pronunciations), but I think by now the point is clear — this is an exceptional production of a great musical. Go see it.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

New Review Posted: The Meat Locker

Centerstage put up my review of The Mammals' The Meat Locker. It has a lot going for it, but works only occasionally. Apparently Breed With Me, their previous show, was very effective, but this one didn't quite do it. Ah well, still some worthwhile stuff up there, and probably worth a trip for lovers of noir, boxing, and claustrophobic basements. Here's the text:

No matter how far you run, or how hard you fight, death will catch up. And what do you lose trying to outrun it? That's the question explored in writer/director Bob Fisher's fascinating, disturbing and ultimately frustrating new play "The Meat Locker."
Meatlocker (Dave Goss), called “Meat,” is a traveling boxer, burdened by visions of the demonic Stitch (Adam Dodds), who threatens that if he ever goes down for the count, he'll die. Manny the Manager (David Lykins) doesn't share Meat's delusion, but does what he can to help them get by, touring from city to city. But they've still ended up in Bumville, where Benny the Bookie (Roy Gonzales) decides who takes a dive in the ring, and when. He won't take no for an answer, and neither will his enforcer, Rudy the Rhino (Gabe Garza).


This is a dark, pulpy tale, full of noirish paranoia, but with more explicit violence. Fisher has a way with disturbing characters - the seedy Radio Howard (Vinny Lacey) and Gonzalez's twitchy Benny are particularly memorable - and there are scenes where the tension and disgust he creates in the audience are palpable. The low-ceilinged basement space and the truly unsettling sound design (uncredited) help significantly.


But these are only isolated moments. The show's impact is hurt by the fact that the central ideas are never really developed over the course of the play, leading to a lot of repetition, and the characters have a few too many poetic monologues whose connection to the main action is hazy at best. And the many lengthy blackouts between scenes don't help.


It's a real shame, because the sections that work are exceptionally effective. With some editing this could be an evening that really gets under your skin, but right now boredom and fascination fight to a draw.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

New Review Posted: The Literati

Centerstage posted my review of Chicago dell'Arte's The Literati a few days ago. I just didn't get around to posting it. (I'm also behind on my season postings. Sorry Time/Life Line(s)!)

Anyhow, the show is lots of fun, and the fact that each night they pick 5 of the 25 books to stage gives it definite repeat value. While it still doesn't quite match the first show I saw from Chicago dell'Arte, A Commedia Christmas Carol, it shows they're still the best at mating the arty and the extremely silly. The show won't change your life, but it's a really fun night out, and certainly worth the $15. (And if you're in  party mood, you could do worse than the 10:30 shows on Friday and Saturday.) And the free parking doesn't hurt at all.

Here's the text:

Victor Hugo's Les Miserables performed as a French farce by three men, replete with bad drag and cheesy accents, probably either strikes audience members as sacrilegious, pointless or totally brilliant. For those who fall into the last category (and I'm among them), "The Literati" is lots of fun - never less than amusing, and occasionally hysterical.


The premise is simple, yet fiendishly difficult: three actors have memorized comic versions of 25 great works of literature. Each night, audience members roll a gigantic die and one work from each of five categories is performed. It's a remarkable feat, and makes it possible that the performance I attended will have almost nothing in common with the one future audience members see.


The show is more than just a series of literary parodies — each performer has a character (with the same first name): Derek Jarvis is the pretentious twit, Ned Record is the sarcastic everyman, and Nick Freed is the cheerful idiot. As the three blunder their way through the show, they skirt the line between improvised and scripted — it always feels like they're making it up, and a lot of the time they probably are. That freewheeling tension sustains the show through the lesser moments. Because there are jokes that don't land, moments that are either too long or rushed, and sections that are merely cute enough instead of hysterical. But the show's ragged and unpretentious aesthetic works in its favor: this isn't a slick spectacle, with every line tested and perfected. It's a bunch of very clever people being extremely silly to amuse themselves and the audience, playing off each other and threatening to fall apart at any moment. But when it's performed with this much delight and comic skill, it's easy to just let go and laugh.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

"Body Snatchers" At City Lit Discussed

Here's the long-awaited second  collaboratioin between myself and Tim Brayton, film blogger extraordinaire over at Antagony and Ecstasy, where this article is also posted. This time, rather than a stage-based movie, we have a film-influenced play. Enjoy!

TIM: In 1954, Collier’s Magazine began serializing a science-fiction novel by Jack Finney, titled The Body Snatchers. It was fairly characteristic of the genre fiction of the ‘50s: essentially conservative, telling the story of a perfectly ordinary town that finds itself under siege by an incomprehensible alien force, and committed to the notion that human – that is, American – ingenuity and stubbornness can trump even the most implacable foe, so take that, Commies!

The crux of the tale, that the planet Earth has been invaded by alien spores that can form a perfect clone of any living being, except for their total lack of emotion, is one of amazing possibility, which is probably why Finney’s novel (published in book form in 1955, and revised in 1976) has been dramatized so many times: no fewer than four motion pictures have been adapted from the material, starting with a reasonably faithful 1956 film titled Invasion of the Body Snatchers, all the way to a remarkably shoddy Nicole Kidman popcorn movie from 2007 simply called The Invasion. And now, we have a stage version, courtesy of Chicago’s City Lit theater company and adapter-director Paul Edwards.

The confluence of Chicago theater and classic cinema doesn’t come along that often, which is why we’ve joined forces to discuss this new project. First, Zev has some words about the genesis of the play, and Paul Edwards’ specific attachment to the pop culture of the 1950s.


ZEV: Adapter/director Paul Edwards is a professor at Northwestern in the department of Performance Studies. To brutally simplify a complex field, Performance Studies is divided into two large branches. One studies performance and performativity in an anthropological and sociological perspective, in everything from religion in indigenous cultures to contemporary American politics. The other treats on the adaptation of non-theatrical texts, especially literature, to the stage. It is the latter area in which Edwards studies and teaches.

Paul Edwards was my professor at Northwestern, so I come to the play with a certain lack of objectivity. It was in his mind-blowingly awesome class on the literature and film of the 1950’s that I first saw the 1956 film version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, along with many other brilliant films. His immersion in the era is obvious in the stage version, but it gives a special kick to recognize a fair portion of the images shown on the projection screens (designed by Edwards and Daniel Carlyon) from his classroom.

So suffice it to say that I went in to the performance with high expectations and a certain sympathy for the project.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Pulitzers Announced! Chatter Ensues!

As has been announced and discussed all over, the Pulitzers were awarded this afternoon. The award went to Next To Normal, the musical about bipolar disorder by Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey currently running on Broadway. The runners up were The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz, which had its world premiere at Victory Gardens (and which I didn't see because I'm a bloody idiot) and is starting previews at Second Stage at the end of this month, Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo, by Rajiv Joseph, who is an alumnus of my high school (and also an awesome playwright, from the little I've read), and In The Next Room or the vibrator play by oft-produced Sarah Ruhl, possessor of both one of the most enviable careers and most ferocious backlashes in the contemporary American theatre. Also of interest: one of the runners-up in the criticism category is Michael Feingold, theatre critic for the Village Voice. He was one of the guest lecturers at the National Critic's Institute in 2008 when I was a fellow there, and, while he's a distinguished critic indeed, it's fair to say that he was not awarded the Pulitzer for charm.

Sharp readers, however, doubtless noted a strange thing above: the usual method is for the main board to choose one winner from the three finalists presented by the Drama jury. However this year (as in 2007 when Rabbit Hole was chosen), the main jury chose a play that was not in the top three. Various theories were floated, though the most prominent were middlebrow, mainstream tastes and a hopelessly pro-New York bias. Charles McNulty, drama critic at the LA Times and a member of the jury, mentions both in his stinging critique of the decision. It sets the theatreosphere talking, at least.

On a personal note, while all the honored plays are doubtless worthy (I do need to play the copy of Next To Normal I ripped from a friend), I was sorry to see no recognition for Tarrell Alvin McCraney's The Brother/Sister Plays, which are magnificent. However, McCraney is young, and he'll write more. It's only a matter of time before he gets his Pulitzer.

Friday, April 9, 2010

New Review Posted: Chekhov Kegstand

Centerstage put up a new review, Chekhov Kegstand at Gorilla Tango. It works better than an adaptation of Uncle Vanya set in a dorm room should--especially since it's not really an adaptation of the plot so much as some of the themes and ideas. The combination of comedy and drama doesn't quite work, and the plotting is pretty confused, but there's potential there. Here's the text:

While the differences are many, there are some profound similarities between the characters in Anton Chekhov's plays and college students: fear of the future, an inability to act, and a love for drinking vodka. Lots and lots of vodka. This is the idea for Bryan Cohen's flawed but promising new play, "Chekhov Kegstand," and for all the things that don't work, it's still better than a play called "Chekhov Kegstand" has any right to be.


The play takes place in the dorm room shared by Aaron (Joe Schlotter) and Greg (Stuart Berberich), best friends and roommates at the start of their senior year at an unidentified college. (The soundtrack appears to place the action in the late 1990s.) Aaron is trying to decide whether to pursue physics or music while Greg struggles with his lines in the soon-to-open production of "Uncle Vanya." There are of course many other complications, involving Lanie (Kimberly Franck), Greg's former girlfriend, currently dating Aaron; Greg's attempts to date stage manager Kelly (Colleen Sketch); and the trials of Jenny (Allison Schaffer), a timid girl taking Greg's dating advice.


The show's representation of college isn't documentary realism, but it's great fun to watch, and gets the crazed emotional essence of those four years. The performances are generally engaging and fun to watch, and there is some excellent verbal and physical comedy. The problem is the plot. It is riddled with implausibility for most of the show (Local critics attending a college production? Student actors being replaced during tech? Really?) and then abruptly resolves the various plot lines, capped with a strange shrug of an ending.


But there's something real and likable here. It's not quite successful yet, but there's enough talent in the writing onstage to make the next show from Cohen and his collaborators worth a look.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

This Is Very Funny

Go visit this site right now. It is, as the title suggests, a series of fake postings for arts jobs that are painfully close to the real thing. For anyone who's ever worked in the field, or attempted to, it's brilliant.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Risky New Plays

Some background: a couple of weeks ago, the Goodman opened the world premiere of Rebecca Gilman's A True History of the Johnstown Flood, directed by Goodman artistic director Robert Falls. The response was not particularly strong. Chris Jones, in the Tribune, gave it two stars. The reviews in general were mixed to negative, with some being better than Jones' and others being much worse. Shortly after opening I started getting offers for significantly discounted tickets in my email, so it's easy to guess that the show isn't doing very well for the Goodman. (I haven't seen the show, so I can't comment on its quality.)

A few days ago, Jones published a reconsideration of the play. After conversation and a few nights spent mulling over it, he came to the determination that there was more to the play than he initially said, and that, despite its flaws, it was worth checking out for the ambition and ideas onstage. This angered a lot of people. There were rumblings that perhaps it was the result of a stern phone call from Falls, which he has been known to do before, but nobody has yet produced evidence that this happened. Monica Reida was bothered that Jones said that people who didn't like the show maybe didn't understand it--not to mention callin the Goodman Chicago's "flagship" theatre and Falls the city's "essential" director, which are pretty sweeping claims. Bob Bullen also took strong exception to the fawning tone of Jones' post, the "flagship" designation, and the Goodman's own policies and behavior. Rob Kozlowski first put up a very funny April Fools post on the Goodman's upcoming season, then an excellent piece on his high expectations of the companies who charge the most for tickets, and whose leadership make the most money.

As he said, when that much money is being charged (and the top ticket price for Johnstown Flood is a staggering $76!) audiences have a right to expect excellence. Jones himself made a similar point a few months ago when discussing Outrageous Fortune: while audiences should be encouraged to take risks, they should also be warned away from bad plays.

So we find ourselves in a bit of a bind: it's good for theatre to have large companies such at the Goodman taking a significant risk by doing world premieres of large-scale plays on the mainstage. This happens all too rarely, and it's vital for the health of theatre in America, particularly the livelihood of playwrights. But while theatre companies taking risks is something that should be rewarded, when those risks belly flop (as this one apparently has), critics and, more importantly, word of mouth will rightly keep people away, and the company will take a severe financial hit.

So what to do? Well, the Goodman will keep going despite this show, and with four of the six plays thus far announced in their 2010-2011 season being world premieres, it's safe to say their commitment to new work is undiminished. And this is a very good thing--what good are large institutions if they don't consistently risk big? But other companies don't have the same security, and a similar situation could severely hurt them or constrain their programming abilities. It's not hard to understand why so many theatres seem allergic to risk, never producing new plays or producing only those with tiny cast sizes.

So how about this: there are a lot of nonprofits, foundations, and charities out there devoted to developing new works: grants, residencies, festivals, readings, etc, etc. But too often great scripts, particularly the big ones, can wither on the vine, never seeing the stage. So how about some of these groups take on a new mission: production of big new plays. These groups will take on some portion of the cost for full-scale productions of new works (premieres or early productions), particularly those with large casts. The financial risk for theatres will be lessened, more new plays will be produced, and the chance of great new plays showing up will increase.

Because even if A True History of the Johnstown Flood doesn't work, the impulse that created it is a very good one. Hopefully the resources are out there for it to continue. Any thoughts?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Seth Gordon to Leave the Cleveland Play House

So usually I write about Chicago (and sometimes New York, I know), but bear with me for what I think is a rather big news out of my hometown of Cleveland. As The Plain Dealer reported, Cleveland Play House Associate Artistic Director Seth Gordon is leaving to take the same position at the Repertory Theatre of St Louis. However, the St. Louis position will have a greater element of new play development (and presumably greater pay, though it was not mentioned). His wife, Elizabeth Townsend, a really exceptional actor, will be going with him.

I was lucky enough to be his intern at the Play House in 2005, and it was a wonderful time. I got my first real script-reading experience, which has been the basis for my literary management career, researched the first few plays of the season, helped cast the kids for the company's first production of A Christmas Story (Seven kid's parts. It was a challenge.), and prepared text and photos for a lobby exhibit on the theatre's 90th anniversary. It was Seth who had the trust in me and my work to give me real responsibility. By the end of the summer, I felt like part of the artistic team of a major regional theatre. Which is pretty cool. The work he gave me at the Play House gave me the basis and confidence to do what I've done so far. (And his letter of recommendation has also helped a whole lot.)

But he's done a lot for Cleveland that wasn't for me. He is an excellent director, at the Play House and smaller venues. His shows were always among the highlights of their respective seasons--an outdoor production of Twelfth Night that he directed remains the high-water-mark for that play in my mind. And he's a genuinely wonderful guy, who treats everyone he encounters with great respect and friendliness. I don't know anyone who has met him and doesn't hugely admire him and like him. I know I'm not the only artist who he has given a leg up in Cleveland--he was well known for hiring local actors for mainstage shows, which gained him a whole lot of loyalty. Elizabeth, continuing the trend, is also an exceptionally good actor and a truly lovely human being. They'll be a big loss to Cleveland's theatre community.

So St. Louis, enjoy Seth and Elizabeth.

Cleveland, I'm truly sorry for the loss--he's the best.

Chicago, the next time an opening on the artistic staff comes up, steal him from St. Louis. It's a shame he's never worked here. At least give him a guest director slot.

And Seth, thank you. And please hire me for something.