by Colin Thomas
You know the storyline in which folks from Hollywood try to prove their artistic chops by doing live theatre? Well, it’s playing out—sort of—three times over in New York City right now: film actor Uma Thurman is leading the cast of The Parisian Woman, and comedian Amy Schumer is making her Broadway debut in comic Steve Martin’s new play Meteor Shower.
Martin is getting a rough ride from the critics. Meteor Shower is a lifestyle comedy set in LA: two couples duke it out on the battlegrounds of home décor, sex appeal, and therapeutic wellbeing. In the LA Times, Charles McNulty describes Martin’s script as “space junk” and says that Martin’s string of jokes “is barely a play at all.”
Critics have been kinder to Schumer. Deadline Hollywood’s Jeremy Gerard calls her work “sensational” for instance, and notes “she’s not playing Amy Schumer, which is probably different from what we expected.”
Thurman is receiving mixed reviews in The Parisian Woman, which is about an ambitious Washington hostess named Chloe who uses her sexual wiles to advance her husband’s career. In the New York Times, Jesse Green gives Thurman more slack than some others, saying, “Unlike many actors whose expertise derives from movies, she has no trouble fully inhabiting, and projecting, even a jury-rigged character like Chloe. Her intelligence and, it has to be said, her innate glamour, make it possible to care about someone you do not believe in.”
Why am I telling you about this? Because I think it’s interesting to see how skills from one medium apply—or don’t—in another. And because it’s a good idea for us all to remember how difficult it is to make good theatre.
Glenda Jackson, who is 80, was among the winners at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, which took place on Sunday, December 3.
After serving 25 years as a Labour MP, Jackson returned to the stage to perform the title role in King Lear, one of the most demanding parts in the English language and, of course, a role written for a man. In The Guardian, Michael Billington wrote, “In an uncanny way, she transcends gender,” and Susanna Clapp evoked Jackson’s “sandpaper voice, gliding movement’ and “complete, ferocious concentration.”
Other winners include Andrew Garfield (Best Actor, for Angels in America), Jez Butterworth (Best Play, for The Ferryman), and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins (Most Promising Playwright, for An Octoroon).
In this piece, from the Evening Standard, in which jury members explain their choices, critic Baz Bamigboye praises the “blazing intelligence and raw emotion” that Garfield brings to his portrait of Prior Walter.
The National’s production of Angels in America is transferring to Broadway, where it opens on March 28.
In Butterworth’s epic script The Ferryman, the past comes back to haunt a family in Northern Ireland. Sam Mendes won an award for his direction of the script and actor Tom Glynn-Carney was chosen as the most promising new talent for his performance in the play.
Jacobs-Jenkins’s An Octoroon satirizes the way a 19th-century Irish melodrama presents slavery in Louisiana. The Guardian’s Michael Billington describes An Octoroon as “infinitely playful and deeply serious” in its exploration of racial representation.
In the 20 years of its existence, The Lion King—which has grossed $7.9 billion US, more than any other title in entertainment history—has employed 263 South African performers in its 24 productions. As this article from the New York Times illustrates, the experiences of those performers have varied widely.
Director Julie Taymor was instrumental in convincing Actors’ Equity to allow South African actors to appear in the musical. “It’s like the spiritual foundation of The Lion King,” she explains. The show is set in South Africa and South African composer Lebo M. composed much of its music, which uses South African languages and choral stylings.
But what’s the lived reality of the artists? After leaving their families behind to tour—often for years—some are able to maintain ongoing careers when they go home to South Africa. Others return to abject poverty. And some find themselves caught between cultures.
Feeling daunted by the holidays? Maybe you should take some advice from performers. Or maybe not.
In this piece, a baker’s dozen of British stand-up comics offer their strategies for coping with seasonal anxiety.
Tom Allen suggests: “It’s the season of goodwill, so let people know how they can improve themselves. Maybe they’ve gone for quantity over quality with the mini quiches, or maybe they’re simply dreadful people. Imagine how pleased they’ll be to have you help them.”
You want to see Onegin. Trust me. A wicked sore throat kept me away from the opening of the Arts Club’s remount of this show, but I almost fainted from pleasure the first time I saw it and people I trust have told me that Amiel Gladstone and Veda Hille’s musical reimagining of Aleksandr Pushkin’s poem is even better this time around. It’s at the Granville Island Stage until December 31, with some cast changes happening on the 27th.
The Cultch is continuing its Christmas traditions with Little Dickens, the Daisy Theatre’s take on A Christmas Carol—that’s genius puppeteer Ronnie Burkett’s show at the Historic Theatre—and the raucously family-friendly The East Van Panto: Snow White & the Seven Dwarves at the York.
In my free weekly newsletter, I publish the best of Fresh Sheet, links to all of my current reviews—including the warnings—and a whole lot of exclusive content.
This week, for instance, there’ll be an item about criticism and body shaming. And the lead piece, “The Spectacle of a Mind at Work,” will link to an essay that argues that the clearest understanding of a review comes from appreciation of a critic’s thought processes.
There will be no Fresh Sheets on December 21, December 28, or January 4. So, if you want to keep theatre news, reviews, and ideas comin’, sign up here. (I’ll get a cooler sign-in page soon. I promise.)