Woody Allen, In the Cinema and On Stage

Great article about Woody Allen in the Wall Street Journal, of all places. Cate Blanchett is starring in his newest film (called "Blue Jasmine"), and she described working with Allen as "brutal and electric". His casting office sounds brutal too, mainly because Allen is admittedly so socially awkward. 

Also, the first bit of casting news has come out for the upcoming Broadway musical version of "Bullets Over Broadway". Zach Braff will be playing playwright David Shayne (John Cusack's part), and Helene York has landed the coveted role of Olive Neal (which garnered an Oscar nomination for Jennifer Tilly), but mum's the word on the other two amazing parts: diva extraordinaire Helen "Don't Speak" Sinclair and gangster/playwright Cheech, originated brilliantly by Dianne Wiest and Chazz Palminteri. Can't wait to see who gets those parts. 

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Want some vodka with that show?

The most fun I've had at the theater the past year was at "Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812". It's an extraordinary evening of fantastic music, tasty food and great theater. And the cast is sublime, especially Phillipa Soo as Natasha. Go see it. Strongest recommendation.   

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Fantasia Barrino, on Broadway "After Midnight"

I missed Fantasia when she played Celie in "The Color Purple" on Broadway, but word was that she owned the stage. And that'd be totally unsurprising for anyone who remembers her seminal performance of "Summertime" during the season she won "American Idol". She'll be great performing Duke Ellington's music, and if she does indeed join this show, I will not miss her again.  

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Tupac vs. Miss Piggy: The Broadway Battle

Today it was announced that a non-biographical musical based on Tupac Shakur's music is headed to Broadway somewhere in the 2013-2014 season.

In a parallel universe, it's been announced that Disney is developing a Muppets show for Broadway.

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These shows will not be competing for the same audience. 

As far as I am concerned, bring on the Swedish Chef! 

David Mamet does not want you to talk about his plays.

At least not in the venue for at least two hours after the play has ended.  

That's a pity.  

One of the best evenings I've ever had in a theater was a talkback of "Oleanna" at Trustus Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina. The show had clearly divided the audience in half, including the opinions of my own party, and the discussions that resulted were exciting and vibrant, the kind that only good work can generate.   

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This policy will not endear him to artistic directors or audiences. Then again, my friends who were in the audience for "The Anarchist" weren't endeared by the play he thrust on Broadway last year, and directed to boot. 

Mamet's a great playwright. But there's nothing great about this new contract provision.  

Neil LaBute Has Words for Critic Cote

Given the nature of his work, is it a surprise to anyone that Neil LaBute will ignore classic protocol and respond to his harshest critics? 

Apparently he's done just that, taking on David Cote from Time Out New York, who has given LaBute many reasons to be unhappy with his latest review. Cote's parting words for LaBute:

Neil LaBute, not smiling. 

Neil LaBute, not smiling. 

"Having authored a couple dozen plays and adaptations, and scads of one-acts, LaBute has abundant technique (he turns out fresh, highly actable dialogue by the yard), but he doesn’t have much to say. That void doesn’t stop his long-winded, boorish creations from yelling, simpering, insulting and apologizing. A wish for the future: Reasons to Be Silent."

I was at the theater the same evening as Cote, so I know for a fact we didn't see different performances. And I have no problem with Cote not liking the play, but the snarky nature of his criticism can irk. 

It certainly got to LaBute, who was the first to comment on the review. The Internet actually let artists respond to their public reviewers, but still, at least in the USA (England has more of this fun going on), it is rare to see an artist return the volley.

Here's LaBute, mostly eschewing capitals, consistent with the title of his play: "david: actually i have taught writing courses at various universities and workshops and my lesson plan invariably begins by having students read the collected works of George Steiner, who was clever enough to remind us that 'a critic casts a eunuch's shadow.' some shadows, of course, are more portly than others but their effect on mankind is basically the same. brief and passing. keep enjoying the free tickets while they last. nl"

Cote's words clearly spread quickly around the Lucille Lortel, because the show's sound designer, Robert Kaplowitz, also had a response for Cote, one far more eloquent and questioning. (Full disclosure: I was fortunate enough to have Kaplowitz do the sound design for one of my plays Off-Broadway, and the man is not only a great talent but also incredibly observant. He's full of ideas, and he's a Tony winner for a reason.)   

A tidbit from Kaplowitz: "If you can only offer highly quotable, glib dismissals of a writer whose style offends you, how are you any more helpful than a child insisting we all buy vanilla ice cream, because that's the only flavor he likes?"

Most working playwrights will inevitably experience dismissal from critics. I certainly have, and often at surprising times and in unexpected ways. It ain't fun. But what fills me with happiness are not the barbs being tossed around but the fact that the artists at hand actually have the opportunity to respond to criticism they find questionable.

 

Reasons to be Happy to Return to the Theater

It helps to have "reasons to be pretty" fresh on the brain when you enter the theater to see "reasons to be happy", but it's not totally necessary. (I went in to the play not realizing it was a sequel.) The cast is very good, but the standout, surprisingly, is Leslie Bibb, who plays a character who's mostly nice and sincere, and those are usually the dullest on stage. She is a unique creation for playwright Neil LaBute: uncynical, kind, and worthy of love.

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Clemson is a Character

New play that's opened Off-Broadway is a behind-the-scenes look at a television reality show about addiction, and in this case, the addict is named Clemson, and yep, this play is set in a trailer home in South Carolina. I have no idea whether or not the playwright is a Gamecock fan, but I know this play is now a must-see for me. As for the review, as this reality show ("Rehabilitation") is clearly modeled on "Intervention", it's too bad the critic hasn't ever seen the obvious inspiration for this play.

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