OMG! This is the last, the very last edition of Colin Thomas’s Fresh Sheet that will ever run on Theatre Wire.
But Fresh Sheet is not disappearing! it’s just growing up and establishing its independent existence.
I will continue to publish my own version of Fresh Sheet every week. If you haven’t already done so, sign up for the new Fresh Sheet right here. That way, you will still get a regular fix of curated local, national, and international theatre coverage—and you will get all of my reviews, including the stinky ones. (I have just linked to the positive reviews on Theatre Wire, but the pans are useful too, right?)
It’s been a grand run on Theatre Wire! Thank you very much to everyone involved, including David Jordan, Laura Efron, Trevor Battye, and especially the intrepid team of Debby Reis and Robyn Kurtz, who are a joy to work with.
When you sign up for the new Fresh Sheet, you will be supporting independent theatre criticism. With so many print publications in their death throes, that is a very important thing to do. Without reliable criticism, theatre doesn’t get the level of attention it deserves.
For an actor, getting reviewed is an oddly intimate—and, potentially, publicly humiliating—experience.
In this 2014 piece in The Guardian, some top-flight actors offer their advice on how to respond to critical opinions.
“I would generally advise against retaliation,” John Hurt warns. “Critics are writers and if you say something on impulse, they’ve got all the time in the world to think of some witty riposte.”
Una Stubbs warns of the destabilizing effect of having a critic’s voice rattling around in your head. “It’s better not to read reviews,” she says, “even when they’re good. They may mention how you say a particular line, and then the next time you come to that part, you’ll think: ‘Ooh, this is the bit they like.’ It makes you think about it too much.”
And Douglas Hodge has a one-size-fits-all solution: “I read all my reviews, good and bad, but I only believe the good ones. It’s a triumph of vanity over common sense.”
In The New York Times, Jesse Green reflects on “The Agony and Ecstasy of Writing Negative Reviews.”
This week, he dissed the Jimmy Buffet jukebox musical Escape to Margaritaville, and the Parrotheads—which is what Buffet fans call themselves—descended like an enraged flock.
“I’m as thin-skinned as anyone else,” Green admits, “and don’t enjoy being excoriated on Twitter or mocked as a theater snob.” But he says that he has a professional responsibility to write the occasional pan: “Criticism is a form of journalism, which is, in theory, a form of truth. A critic reports honestly on his own thoughts and feelings, as if they were a war or a trial.” He offers his honesty, he argues, to help his readers “navigate by a steady aesthetic star.” He concludes, “in that sense, ‘theatre snob’ isn’t really an insult. It’s my job description.”
Green also admits that, for him, writing pans is invigorating. And it’s easy to feel the energy behind the wit in his review of Broadway’s Buffet extravaganza. He writes: “Escape to Margaritaville, a paean to the pleasures of zipless debauchery, is pitched so low it will temporarily extinguish your I.Q.”
The teenaged leaders of the #NeverAgain gun-control movement are extraordinary for many things—including their sense of theatricality. Nobody is wielding that theatricality more effectively than Emma González.
Imagining how González might have put together her six-and-a-half-minute contribution to this past weekend’s March for Our Lives, playwright, actor, and Queen’s University prof John Lazarus wrote on Facebook: “First of all, she decided to do a speech exactly as long as the time it took to shoot the 17 kids at Parkland. Good idea.
“Then I’m thinking she decided to open by mentioning the six minutes and 20 seconds, and to name all of the 17 kids, with personal comments about the ones she knew.
“She might’ve timed that, and discovered that it was only about two minutes. What to do for the other four minutes and twenty seconds? Then she came up with a great idea: nothing. She would stand there in silence.
“And then she came up with the genius idea: don’t explain it in advance. Just stand there. Let them think that she had dried, or been emotionally overcome, or that something had gone horribly wrong—because it has.
“And then she had the astonishing guts and self-possession to do exactly that. They clapped, and she stood there. They chanted, and she stood there. They shouted that they loved her, and she stood there. A guy came onstage and spoke to her, and she stood there. She showed us both how long, and how short, six minutes and 20 seconds can be. Among so many other things, it was a brilliant piece of theatre.”
In The Washington Post, Peter Marks also noticed. Referring to Hamlet, he says, “The rest really was silence.”
The National Theatre of Great Britain’s production of Angels in America has finally opened on Broadway and the reviews (Broadway News, The New York Times) are ecstatic. But the most moving review is Charles McNulty’s in the Los Angeles Times. In his assessment, McNulty revisits his first encounter with the play 25 years ago and opens his heart to the surprising gifts of Angels in the age of Trump.
“AIDS was still more or less a death sentence in 1993,” he remembers. “My uncle had died from the disease in 1987. I had seen older friends and acquaintances wither and vanish from the world. Chronological luck had kept me safe—I hadn’t known a time as an adult when AIDS wasn’t a threat—but life felt precarious.
“The scene after the first intermission in Part One: Millennium Approaches immediately tested my resolve. I remember crouching in my seat as I considered making a furtive exit after Prior, his illness gaining ground, soils himself with blood while Louis, his overwhelmed lover, gasps, ‘Oh help. Oh help. Oh God oh God oh God help me I can’t I can’t I can’t.’ My own emotional reaction was completely physicalized: I couldn’t breathe.”
Watching the National’s production this week, he looked forward to bathing again in playwright Tony Kushner’s fury. “But something else happened,” he writes. “I left knowing that we’re all in this together and that, justifiably furious as we may be, if we don’t come together through love and forgiveness, we’re doomed. The polarizing tactics of the White House cannot be duplicated if they are to be defeated. Anger is a potent catalyst, but it’s not a final answer.”
McNulty quotes the nurse Belize as he stands over the body of the gay, virulently homophobic Roy Cohn—who, in reality, was a mentor to Donald Trump. “He was a terrible person,” Belize says. “He died a hard death. So maybe … a queen can forgive her vanquished foe. It isn’t easy, it doesn’t count if it’s easy, it’s the hardest thing. Forgiveness. Which is maybe where love and justice finally meet.”
Ashlie Corcoran, who took over as artistic director of the Arts Club Theatre in October, has a giddy opportunity: all of a sudden, she is heading the largest theatrical organization in Western Canada. She is also coming under intense scrutiny from Vancouver’s theatre community, and some are wary of what they’ve seen so far.
In an earlier issue of this newsletter, I noted the concern many feel about the total absence of premieres by local playwrights in Corcoran’s 2018/2019 season.
There is also worry about the abundance of co-productions, which will reduce the amount of work available to local theatremakers.
In the upcoming season, the Arts Club will participate in five co-pros: Sweat, Matilda, Mustard, Redpatch, and Bed and Breakfast. The Arts Club will present three shows that have already been produced by other companies—Circle Game, True Crime, and Blind Date—and remount its own productions of Beauty and the Beast, Mom’s the Word: Nest ½ Empty, and The Piano Teacher.
That means that, of the 17 shows that the Arts Club is presenting next season, six will be new, all-Arts-Club productions.
Rachel Ditor was the literary manager of the Arts Club for 17 years, but resigned after Corcoran announced a season that didn’t include any new scripts by local writers.
Commenting on the potential impact of co-productions, Ditor says, “Every artistic job that leaves our region is felt by the community here. It’s an expensive city to live in and the Arts Club has been a major factor in keeping talent in Vancouver.”
One of the particular concerns is the employment of the artists who work in the Arts Club’s scene shop. Although regular production staff members usually experience about an eight-week hiatus in the summer, according to Ace Martens, who is the Arts Club’s technical director, this summer, that downtime looks like it might extend to 11 weeks.
Martens is quick to add, however, that “there has also been a great deal of engagement from management here to reduce the effect this will have on Arts Club employees.”
“Ashlie has also already taken back the build of a show that was slated to be brought in next year,” he notes, “so that our production team will build it here.” And he says that there are other possibilities in the air, including “professional development and educational opportunities for our staff, some dearly needed maintenance projects, and potentially some pre-building of our 19/20 season.”
Corcoran allows that concern about the gap in shop work is “the biggest thing on my mind right now, but adds, “We are committed to ensuring that our 18/19 season will fit within the scope of what has been normal in the past.”
Corcoran also insists that she is committed to local actors, designers, and directors: “As our co-producing partners can attest, I am a huge advocate for our local artists and have made sure that the ratio of BC artists in these co-pros is strong. We are still making offers, negotiating and contracting, so I can’t be 100% transparent yet (keep your eyes peeled for creative-team press releases.)”
No doubt, many eyes will be peeled.
In Theatre Wire, I have only ever linked to positive reviews. This week, there’s a total of one of those:
Bar Mitzvah Boy: At first, Mark Leiren-Young’s script wanders around as it explores the relationship between Joey, a grandfather who wants to receive his bar mitzvah before his grandson does, and Michael, the female rabbi, who is Joey’s choice of religious instructor. But then death makes an understated entrance and Bar Mitzvah Boy reveals its central question: How can one reconcile the existence of death, suffering, and a loving God? Touchingly, the growing friendship between Joey and Michael becomes a microcosm of the love and support that one can receive in a religious community—sometimes. Richard Newman and Gina Chiarelli make beautiful music together in this two-hander.
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