Sunday, March 22, 2009

Friday, March 20, 2009

Don't tell Albee

Courtesy of my friend Kevin:

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Milan had emailed me a couple of times over the past years about this page, saying he'd checked it out and enjoyed reading. I remember him sending me a reply to my ignorance about Raymond Burr's sexual orientation that was just the kind of brief, campy missive that made me imagine him erupting in laughter at the keyboard as he typed it.

I'd share that one here, but I'm keeping it to myself. Instead, I'll share my last correspondence from him; it came in the form of the below email, sent to me on my birthday last November.  It's just a simple token, of course -- probably something he signed up for as an email blast and just copy-pasted into the body of the email. Still, its thoughtfulness was not lost on me. In fact, it was such a pleasant surprise in my inbox that I walked around and shared it with about three or four of my co-workers. 
Happy birthday,


Below are other theatrical highlights of your day.

1912 - Writer, director, producer, actor Garson Kanin (1912-1999) is born today in Rochester, NY.

1919 - Billie Burke stars, and her husband Florenz Ziegfeld Jr. produces, CAESAR'S WIFE by W. Somerset Maugham, opening tonight at the Liberty Theatre for a run of 81 performances. Setting: The house, terrace and garden of the British Consular Agent in Cairo, Egypt.

1924 - Opening night of Sidney Howard's drama THEY KNEW WHAT THEY WANTED, about an elderly winegrower who tries to fool a mail-order bride by sending her the photo of his handsome young foreman. It wins the Pulitzer Prize, runs 384 performances at the Garrick Theatre, and will be adapted as the musical THE MOST HAPPY FELLA in 1956.

1936 - Opening night of Noel Coward's play TONIGHT AT 8:30, consisting of three one-acts, The ASTONISHED HEART, HANDS ACROSS THE SEA and RED PEPPERS. Coward directs, and stars with Gertrude Lawrence. The production runs 118 performances at the National Theatre.

1940 - This is the first date many legitimate theatres begin Sunday performances. In the past, the Winter Garden, the Selwyn and the Century had presented Sunday evening variety shows, but these were special vaudeville programs.

1950 - "Luck Be a Lady Tonight" as Frank Loesser's GUYS AND DOLLS opens at the Forty-sixth Street Theatre. George S. Kaufman directs and Michael Kidd choreographs this Abe Burrows, Jo Swerling & Loesser musical based on Damon Runyan's stories. Sam Levene is Nathan Detroit, co-starring with Robert (father of Alan) Alda, Isabel Bigsley, Vivian Blaine and Stubby Kaye. The show gets rave reviews and runs for a total of 1,200 performances.

1951 - Audrey Hepburn stars in Anita Loos' adaptation of Colette's GIGI, about the training of a beautiful young courtesan. The show will run 219 performances at the Fulton Theatre, and be adapted as a film musical of the same title in 1958, with Leslie Caron in Hepburn's role.

1955 - Margaret Sullavan plays her last Broadway role in JANUS, opening tonight at the Plymouth Theatre for a run of 251 performances. Written by Carolyn Green and directed by Reginald Denham, the romantic comedy also stars Robert Preston and Claude Dauphin.

1958 - José Ferrer produces (with the Playwrights' Company), directs and stars as EDWIN BOOTH for 24 perfroamnces, beginning tonight at the 46th Street Theatre. Written by Milton Geiger, the drama also stars Lois Smith and Lorne Greene. Costumes are designed by Edith Head, and the assistant to Mr. Ferrer is Vincent Donahue.

1961 - Actress Ruth Chatterton dies at age 67.

1986 - SMILE, a musical adaptation of the film about backstage emotions at a beauty pageant, opens at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. Partly owing to the presence of Marvin Hamlisch as composer and Howard Ashman as lyricist-librettist, the TV series "60 Minutes" chronicles its tryouts, previews and opening night. Unfortunately, the production is slammed by critics and closes after just 48 performances. Happy ending: Ashman likes leading lady Jodi Benson so much, he helps her get the role of Ariel the Mermaid in the Disney animated film blockbuster "The Little Mermaid," for which he supplies lyrics.

1994 With a stroke of the keyboard, Broadway enters the internet age as Playbill On-Line launches its new online theatre news service.

1996 - Opening night for JUAN DARIEN, with music by Elliot Goldenthal, which had previously been done Off-Off & Off-Broadway. The production also marks the Broadway debut of director/designer Julie Taymor whose masks, puppets and innovative stage business are a sensation, even if the show itself runs just 49 performances at the Beaumont Theatre. In less than a year, Taymor will take New York by storm with her THE LION KING, using many of the same techniques.

2003 - BOBBI BOLAND stars Farrah Fawcett, starts previews November 4th, plays seven of them and, though tonight is designated its official opening night, the show closes on November 9th and never officially opens. Directed by David Esbjornson and written by Nancy Hasty, the six-character play is set in the Boland's living room in Crestview, Florida. Fawcett goes on without an understudy.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Horton Foote

I've written on here about a few writers I had the good fortune to hear speak when I was living in Houston. Horton Foote was one of them. He had just written a memoir about his youth in Texas, and I got a copy signed to give to one of my theater professors back in Arkansas. It was a wonderful conversation with the author; members of the audience would raise their hand and talk about how they knew his family or went to school with kids that shared last names of some of the characters in his plays and wanted to know if he based anybody on this family or that family. Mr. Foote responded graciously, chatting about his life in the area. I use the word "conversation" deliberately, because it was just that -- pleasant, wistful, unpretentious. It's one of the first times I remember encountering a writer I admire and feeling no awe or intimidation or detachment from the experience. He just seemed like a very nice, genteel, wise man.

I enjoyed Charles McNulty's tribute to him in the LATimes this week. This is my favorite paragraph:
Foote's dramatic method could strike some as pedestrian -- avant-garde he most certainly wasn't -- and his subject matter might seem overly circumscribed, especially to those who judge a work by grand themes rather than poignant depths. He adored innovators -- dancer and choreographer Martha Graham especially -- but as an artist, he decided to stick with what he knew best, which meant carpentered realism inspired by his small-town Southern past.
It's heartening to read, both here and in some of the other writing on him this week, about his unflagging adherence to his very specific style and subject matter. In these times I think realism in theater often gets a bad rap -- specifically in regional writing. Even the word "regional" suggests a kind of hierarchy of subject matter. I don't know how much Foote's been given that description, but I hear and read it all the time -- "he's one of the best of our regional writers." It's just as odd to me as championing "female writers" or "black writers." A professor of mine once took issue with someone suggesting Jane Austen was one of our best "female novelists," responding that "she's one of our best novelists. Period."

I'm not an expert on Foote's theater, but I've always loved the simple warmth and delicate emotions found in the work I do know. In much of the writing on him people keep comparing him equally to Chekhov and Faulkner. Just as an aside, his adaptation of Faulkner's Tomorrow is one of the most suprisingly spare, moving dramatic adaptations I've ever seen of Faulkner -- or anything, for that matter. I really get and appreciate both these literary comparisons, and such a commitment in form, style and subject matter seems like a deep and ambitious literary accomplishment. It makes me wonder if he might be "one of our best dramatists. Period."