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“Bootycandy” Has So Many Flavors

Phillip James Brannon & Michael Coadie Williams in Bootycandy at Philly's Wilma Theatre

Phillip James Brannon & Lance Coadie Williams in Bootycandy at Philly’s Wilma Theatre

Robert O’Hara’s new play is wild and serious at the same time

In some ways, Bootycandy is a wild fantasy. Robert O’Hara’s latest play, now at Playwrights Horizons, just keeps breaking storytelling conventions, so that every time we think we understand it, it dodges and weaves.

For instance, we might start with a sitcom-style scene about a little boy and his mother, but in a just a few minutes we’ll see an erotic moment between two men flirting in a bar. We might see two women hollering about a baby with a ridiculous name, but soon enough, the action transitions to a playwrights’ conference, where the “authors” of the very scenes we’ve been watching are asked to explain themselves.

But while Bootycandy is certainly raucous, it’s never messy. O’Hara, who also directs, is tackling the experience of being a gay black man in America, and by juxtaposing so many theatrical styles, he’s suggesting there’s no tidy way to confront such a huge subject. If a character like Sutter, who journeys from confused youth to conflicted adulthood, lives in a play that’s outlandish and contradictory and ferocious, well… maybe that’s how things are for the real-life Sutters of the world.

The actors might agree. For them, this fantastical show is also realistic. At least emotionally. [Read more →]

August 28, 2014   No Comments

Which Performance Would You Go Back In Time To See?

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Welcome to Geek Out/Freak Out, where theatre fans get super enthusiastic about things.

This week, Stages editor Mark Blankenship geeks out (via Gchat) with Allison Taylor,  TDF’s very own Manager of Individual Giving and Events.

Today’s Topic: Which performance would you go back in time to see?

Mark Blankenship: Hello Allison! Before we get started, let me acknowledge that you are sitting about 20 feet from me, and if we wanted to, we could just shout this conversation at each other.

Allison Taylor: Indeed! Because I am so excited about our topic, I may actually be inspired to yell random play titles across the office.

Mark: But because we are incredibly savvy, we’ll be speaking via the miracle of instant message. Would you mind telling our readers a little about what you do at TDF?

Allison: Sure! I am the manager of individual giving and events. One of the things I love the most about my job is that I constantly get to talk to individual donors about theatre and our favorite performances. It is a rather inventive way of using my graduate degree which, like yours, is in DRAMATURGY!!!

Mark: Dramaturgs forever! And I applaud your gentle segue to today’s topic. Given our academic degrees and geeky personal interest in theatre history, let’s discuss the historical performances we’d most love to see. The performances we’d travel back in time for, even if it meant exposing ourselves to infectious diseases of the 18th century that our modern bodies couldn’t fight.

Allison: Don’t worry—if we ever went back in time to see Mrs. Patrick Campbell in Pygmalion, I would just pocket a few Z packs.

Mark: Smart thinking! So is she your first choice, or does another vintage turn top your list?

Allison: You know… I don’t think I’d want to go back that far. Most of the great performances I want to see are pretty contemporary, relatively speaking. But I’d probably see Mrs. Patrick Campbell in Mrs. Warren’s Profession, as I think that Shaw wrote that part specifically for her. What about you? I know you love Ibsen.

Mark: I certainly do, but if we’re talking about 19th-century drama, I would want to see Sarah Bernhardt perform something. She was regarded as one of the greatest actresses of her day, and I want to know what that was like. Would her style of “great acting” even register with us today? I’m thinking it might seem incredibly overwrought, now that we’ve become accustomed to the more minimalist forms of camera acting. But I want to know for sure.

Allison: Oh that’s a great one.

Mark: That’s part of what makes this whole idea so appealing to me. Because unlike a novel or a painting, which can be experienced today in pretty much the same way they were experienced back then, you can’t actually know what vintage acting was like.

Allison: Absolutely. That reminds me of something that I kept coming up against when I was thinking about this topic. There are a lot of great stage performances that have been filmed. Sometimes the actors recreate their roles for a movie version, like Marlon Brando, Kim Hunter, and Karl Malden did for A Streetcar Named Desire. (Oh, I would have loved to see Jessica Tandy in the original stage production!) Or sometimes the production has literally been filmed, like Colleen Dewhurst and Jason Robards in A Moon for the Misbegotten.

But I always wonder how those performances change. Even if Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst were stunning in the filmed version of Moon, I am sure they would have been even more compelling in person. In fact, Jason Robards tops my list of performers I wish I had seen. I’d like to see him in any O’Neill play. [Read more →]

August 26, 2014   13 Comments

What’s Coming to Broadway This Fall?

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Your Broadway fall preview, with peeks at 14 new shows

It’s felt like autumn in New York for the last month, but now it’s officially fall on Broadway. As of tomorrow, the new season kicks into high gear, and by December, we’ll see over a dozen new productions on the Great White Way.

Here’s a Broadway fall preview, giving you a glimpse at everything that’s coming soon.

NEW PLAYS

The Country House
(Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Previews September 19, opens October 2.)

Manhattan Theatre Club reunites with Donald Margulies for a play about a family of eccentric performers who gather for an explosive weekend at their summer home. Blythe Danner stars as the matriarch, and star-in-the-making Sarah Steele plays the family’s relatively sane daughter.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
(Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Previews September 10, opens October 5.)

You may remember this blockbuster novel, which follows an extremely intelligent, socially challenged teenager as he investigates the death of a neighbor’s dog. Now it’s a blockbuster play, arriving on Broadway after winning a boatload of awards in London.

Disgraced
(Lyceum Theatre. Previews September 27, opens October 23.)

Ayad Akhtar’s play, which won the Pulitzer Prize in 2013, pulses with provocative political ideas. We follow the emotional undoing of a Muslim-American lawyer who has changed his name to hide his Islamic heritage and married a white woman who uses Islamic influences in her art. After a series of startling events, both of them realize their assumptions and fears have more control over them than they ever believed.

The River
(Circle in the Square. Previews October 31, opens November 16.)

Hugh Jackman returns to Broadway in the latest play from Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem.) Expect poetry and metaphor to collide with raw feeling as a man and woman encounter each other in a remote cabin.

NEW MUSICALS

The Last Ship
(Neil Simon Theatre. Previews September 29, opens October 26.)

This is one of those rare Broadway creatures: A fully original musical. Inspired by his own childhood, Sting delivers a folk-inflected score about a British shipping community that’s in danger of falling apart as its livelihood disappears. Director Joe Mantello helms a cast that includes Jimmy Nail, Michael Esper, and Aaron Lazar.

Honeymoon in Vegas
(Nederlander Theatre. Previews November 18, opens January 15, 2015)

How’s this for range? After composing last season’s gorgeous romance The Bridges of Madison County, Jason Robert Brown returns with a zany comedy based on the 1992 film. Rob McClure (whose costumes TDF has been giving away) stars a commitment-phobe who finally proposes to his girlfriend (Brynn O’Malley). But when they go to Vegas to celebrate, she gets seduced by a smooth-talking gambler played by Tony Danza. Yowza!

[Read more →]

August 25, 2014   6 Comments

Get Your Hands on a Broadway Legend’s Shirt

Mark Blankenship, looking fancy

Your TDF Stages editor (in Costume Collection couture)

Inside the latest bag sale at the TDF Costume Collection

When TDF’s Costume Collection has a bag sale, customers can dress like Broadway stars. Literally.

All year round, the Collection rents professional costumes at a reasonable price to non-profit theatres, colleges, high schools, and other arts programs across the country. However, even though its massive space at Kaufman Astoria Film Studios holds over 80,000 items, it still needs to make room for new clothes and accessories every year. (Pieces are regularly donated by Broadway shows, major regional theatres,  and other outlets.) That’s why arts professionals are invited to participate in a semiannual bag sale, where they pay one price for an empty bag and then stuff it with as much as they can carry.

The latest sale was on Monday, and attendees could choose from over 3500 items ranging from a sparkly cocktail gown to a rubber lizard suit. For the designers and artists who participated, it was an opportunity to outfit their upcoming productions in professional style.

“We have shoestring budgets, so to be able to take advantage of something like this makes a huge amount of difference for what we can do,” said David Lang, who was looking for clothes for a series of historical reenactments at the Van Horne House in Bridgewater, New Jersey. Meanwhile, Karen Foppiani, who was preparing for productions of Shrek and Oklahoma! at the Narrows Community Theater in Bay Ridge, was excited to experience a bag sale firsthand. “I’ve been hearing about it,” she said. “It’s kind of mythical. I’ve been getting tips and strategies. You sling something on your arm if you think you might like it, then you sort it out later.” (She filled her bag with so many costume pieces that this reporter helped her lug it to the street.)

Karen Foppiani & her daughter

Karen Foppiani & her daughter

The hope is that everyone will leave with their bags and their imaginations bursting. “There are some companies who choose their seasons based on what they get here,” said Joanne Haas, the Collection’s Associate Director. “Maybe now they can do Romeo and Juliet because they were able to get a few doublets.”

And sometimes, customers end up taking home clothes that were worn by Broadway stars. Take what happened to Micah McCain, who tweeted this message after getting home from the sale:

 

A little while later, McClure, who will soon be starring in the Broadway musical Honeymoon in Vegas, tweeted back: [Read more →]

August 20, 2014   No Comments

When Do You Stop Seeing the Barbed Wire?

Saul Reichen

Saul Reichlin

The startling set design of a new Holocaust play

It’s always there, stretched across the stage. For the entire 70 minutes of The Good and the True, a play based on the recollections of Holocaust survivors Hana Pravda and Milos Dobry, barbed wire hangs between us and the actors. Even after the characters survive Auschwitz and death marches, the wire is there. Even when they go on to have families and celebrated careers—Dobry was a rugby star and Pravda a renowned actress—the barrier stays in place.

“We’re standing there with it an inch away from our faces,” says Saul Reichlin, who plays Dobry. “It’s very powerful as something for an actor to work behind.”

But here’s the thing: Eventually, audiences at the DR2 Theatre, where The Good and the True will play through mid-September, may stop noticing the fence is even there. After all, we’re experiencing a fascinating story about people who survived a nightmare and went on to thrive. Milos and Hana’s humanity pushes past the wire. (Which is really just string, by the way. It’s part of the set design by Daniel Hrbek, who also directs and helped compile Milos and Hana’s testimonies.)

The actors have the same response. “You get so used to it that you stop noticing it after a while unless you’re standing right up close to it,” says Reichlin, speaking during a recent phone call. “You get used to the dangers of life. They just become facts.”

At that, Reichlin’s co-star, Isobel Pravda, interjects: “I think that’s an excellent point, and I think you can make it even wider. These two people lived with the fact of the Holocaust. Not that they ever accepted it as being okay, but they got on with things. They lost their families and continued to live and love and live again.”

Isobel can speak about her character’s mindset with rare certainty, since Hana Pravda was her real-life grandmother. [Read more →]

August 18, 2014   2 Comments