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How Do You Perform a Stephen Adly Guirgis Play?

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Stephen McKinley Henderson & Ray Anthony Thomas

Ray Anthony Thomas tackles the gruff poetry of Between Riverside and Crazy

Welcome to Building Character, our ongoing look at performers and how they create their roles

There are so many pronouncements and jokes and wild, thundering feelings in Between Riverside and Crazy that you may not think about the poetry until you leave the theatre and catch your breath.

The latest from Stephen Adly Guirgis, now in its world premiere at Atlantic Theater Company, the play follows Pops (Stephen McKinley Henderson), a recently widowed police officer who’s suing the department, trying to motivate his ex-convict son, and nursing a drink any chance he can get. Life hasn’t licked him, though, and eventually, he starts shedding the memories, the people, and the dark private thoughts that have pinned him down.

We especially feel his fire when he speaks. Whether he’s scolding his son Junior (Ray Anthony Thomas), telling cop stories, or just making a salty observation about church ladies who eat too much, he delivers beautifully sculpted speeches. Yes, they’re peppered with curse words and slang, but their artistry is easy to hear.

It’s like that with all the characters. Guirgis, whose earlier plays include The Last Days of Judas Iscariot and The Motherf—er With the Hat, is well known for giving powerful voices to even the most disenfranchised people.

“The characters live in a poetic place, even though they’re not poets,” says Thomas. “The way they express their lives is almost musical, and when we were in rehearsal, all of us were just trying to find that common musical language.” [Read more →]

July 21, 2014   No Comments

Fanmail: “Violet” Star Annie Golden is a Punk Rock Queen

Sutton Foster & Annie Golden in Violet

Sutton Foster & Annie Golden in Violet

Welcome to Fanmail, our tributes to theatre artists we admire

I heard Annie Golden’s voice before I ever saw her. Her song “Hang Up the Phone”—a bizarrely peppy ode to romantic jealousy—made quite an impression on me as an adolescent when I heard it in John Hughes’ movie Sixteen Candles. I played it over and over and over again (on LP!), and I fell for her clear, high-pitched voice, which sounded strong but also throbbed with emotion and insecurity.

Little did I know Golden’s career would mirror my own life. We both started out as punk rock chicks, though I just went to CBGBs in the ‘80s while she headlined there as the lead singer of the band The Shirts a decade earlier. The theatre, though, was always my real obsession—as a teen, I played my Sondheim records in secret so that none of my “cool” friends would know. And that’s how I rediscovered Golden: She sang another twisted love song, “Unworthy of Your Love,” as Charles Manson acolyte Squeaky Fromme on the cast recording of the original production of Assassins.

After that, my one-sided love affair with Golden truly blossomed. As a young NYC theatre journalist, I saw her in many shows in the ‘90s and the ‘00s: Playing a hilarious dud of a blind date in On the Town, the straight-talking working-class wife of an aspiring male stripper in The Full Monty, and a variety of roles in an early workshop of Broadway Musicals of 1968 at La MaMa. That last one—a compilation of songs and scenes from mostly forgotten old-fashioned shows that happened to be on Broadway in the same year the game-changing Hair opened—was particularly ironic for Golden, since she made both her Main Stem and movie debuts in incarnations of the American Tribal Love Rock Musical. [Read more →]

July 17, 2014   No Comments

LISTEN: Bartlett Sher & Julie Taymor discuss their legendary careers

Bartlett Sher & Julie Taymor

Bartlett Sher & Julie Taymor

In the coming weeks, TDF Stages will begin hosting the podcast series Masters of the Stage. Created by SDCF (the Stage Directors and Choreographers Foundation), this series features more than three decades of priceless one-on-one interviews and panel discussions with the theatre’s most distinguished luminaries. These conversations will let you hear the story of the American theatre, as told by those who helped chart its course.

As a preview of things to come, you can immediately listen to a thrilling conversation between directors Bartlett Sher and Julie Taymor, moderated by Anne Bogart. Recorded on April 29, 2014 at New York’s National Opera Center, it features discussions of their respective backgrounds, training, and inspirations, and how these elements have influenced many of the projects they’ve pursued throughout their illustrious careers. Listen here… and check back soon for the complete Masters of the Stage collection.

July 16, 2014   No Comments

Not Just “Once,” But a Thousand Times

Paul Whitty (R, on box) & the Once cast

Paul Whitty (R, on box) & the Once cast

At Broadway’s “Once,” cast members stick around for years

For many actors in the original cast, Once was the right show at the right time. That’s why they’ve never left.

Take Paul Whitty, who has finally made his Broadway debut, ten years after narrowly missing the opportunity. His first job after college was in The Full Monty, where he was cast as a vacation replacement for an understudy. He was employed for two weeks without ever going on, and though he hoped to come back to the show, it closed a few months later.

Once happened at this perfect juncture where I really needed this show and I really needed this group of people,” he says. “I was on the fence about whether I even wanted to stay in New York. Whether I even wanted to keep trying my hand at being an actor.”

For Anne L. Nathan, Once was the chance to unleash her inner rock star. She had appeared on Broadway in several high-profile successes, including Thoroughly Modern Millie and Assassins, but her dream was to be in a band. She was never the right age for spiky productions like Rent or Spring Awakening, so when a rock musical came along that she could actually join, it immediately topped her wish list.

And those are just two of the performers who have been with Once since the beginning. Based on the 2006 movie about an Irish guy and a Czech girl who channel their complicated feelings for each other into their music, it launched with a 2011 workshop at the American Repertory Theatre in Cambridge. From there, most of the cast moved to an Off-Broadway run at New York Theatre Workshop before heading to Broadway in March 2012. Even now, almost half of the thirteen-person ensemble is the same as opening night. Along with Whitty and Nathan, current cast members David Patrick Kelly, Andy Taylor, and Erikka Walsh joined the ensemble in Cambridge, while J. Michael Zygo came on board at NYTW.

“I’ve never been in a show where this many people have stayed so long. It just doesn’t happen,” says Nathan, who plays Girl’s mother Baruška. She does sometimes audition for other roles, but so far, nothing has tempted her to leave Once, which won the 2012 Tony Award for Best Musical. The same is true for Whitty, who plays Billy, the owner of a piano shop where Guy and Girl sing the standout ballad “Falling Slowly.”

Whitty says, “It would have to be a really special thing to take me away from Once, because it’s an ideal thing for me. I’m playing a really wonderful, fun character who I got to create, which is the first time I’ve ever done that on this sort of level.”

The company members were very much a part of the development process and have a creative stake in the material. For instance, the production is staged so that the actors are also the musicians, and everyone in the cast was able to experiment in the rehearsal room until they found just the right instrument. (Whitty’s is the guitar and Nathan’s is the accordion, which she had to learn). [Read more →]

July 15, 2014   1 Comment

A Major Playwright (That New Yorkers Hardly Know)

The cast of Lone Star

A scene from Lone Star

After 35 years, James McLure gets another significant New York production

Regional theatres that produce new plays often plan their seasons by dipping into the same well of recent New York hits—a bit of Venus in Fur, a dollop of Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, a healthy serving of Clybourne Park. However, there are still playwrights out there who enjoy thriving careers without much New York exposure. Some of them, in fact, are regularly produced for years without the city’s help, which means local audiences miss what the rest of the country gets to see.

That’s certainly the case with playwright James McLure, whose work is finally back in town after decades of playing everywhere else.

McLure, a Louisiana native who died of cancer in 2011, did reach Broadway in 1979 with a double bill of the one-acts Lone Star and Pvt. Wars, both of which burrow into the lives of Vietnam vets. Now Contemporary Theatre of Dallas is adding to those credits with its own double bill, making its New York debut by presenting Lone Star with a companion piece called Laundry and Bourbon. (They’re playing at the Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row.)

“James had a love for all of his characters and all of their flaws,” says director Cynthia Hestand. “He’s definitely interested in rebel types, people who like to get wild.”

Hestand has a long association with the plays, having acted in a production of Laundry and Bourbon years ago, but she gained a far greater appreciation when she directed these two works for Contemporary Theatre of Dallas in 2004 and 2006. By the time the second run came around, McLure had caught wind of the productions, and he gave Hestand a call. [Read more →]

July 14, 2014   2 Comments