The John Lennon Peace Wall | Prague 2010

The John Lennon Peace Wall | Prague 2010
John Lennon Peace Wall | Prague 2010 | Photo by Deborah S. Greenhut

About Me

United States
Deborah S. Greenhut, PhD, is a playwright, arts documentarian, and educator who began teaching in a one-room school house in rural New England during 1970. These days you can find me collaborating with urban educators and students, seeking new ways to make education artful. I have consulted on management skills and communication arts in 44 of the United States and 5 provinces in Canada. I believe that people learn more effectively through drama-assisted instruction, and I exploit the Internet to deliver it. The views expressed here are entirely mine and not those of any other institution or organization.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Review of Macbeth (Of the Oppressed)

Macbeth and Husband Macbeth (Minino and Stallings)

Macbeth (Of the Oppressed) is not your great-great-great grandmother’s Shakespeare. Or is it? A man – Husband Macbeth, played masterfully by David Stallings—speaks those chilling words “Come to my woman's breasts, and take my milk for gall,” and some have expressed dismay about this gender- and other culture-bending choices by Director Tom Slot in this production at the 14th Street Y. But let’s think back to the history of who the original players were—young and old men playing at being women and everyone else. How revolutionary is that?  Macbeth has survived the test of time because of its universal message, which goes way beyond gender and contemporary politics of any particular time.  This casting is radical, not because it follows a trend, but because it gets to the root of human questions.

Here’s the way the casting looks on paper: Featuring a cast of eight women and eight men. Starring Olev Aleksander as Malcolm, James Edward Becton* as Second Witch, Susan G. Bob* as Queen Duncan, Adam Galloway Brooks as Son, Jennifer Fouché* as First Witch, Taylor Graves as Lady Macduff, Antonio Minino as Macbeth, Elisabeth Preston* as Banquo,  Briana Sakamoto* as Third Witch, Shetal Shah* as Porter, Lavita Shaurice* as Third Witch, Jacob Stafford as Fleance, David Stallings as Husband Macbeth, Jonathan West as Lennox, and Stephanie Willing as Donalbain.

Each of these actors is well trained and committed; they rise to the challenge of performing Shakespeare with especially moving, stand-up performances delivered by Minino, Stallings, and Preston.

Director Tom Slot had a method to what some might view as his madness in these redeveloped roles: “In order for theatre to be truly impactful it needs to hold a mirror to the audience and reflect the times we live in and the shared human condition that unites us all.” His production complements his vision. I left the theatre thinking about the essence of “the tale,” rather than worrying idiotically over the players’ identities.

The production team deserves tremendous credit for realizing this vision.  Fight Choreographer, Chester Poon, capitalized on the individual strengths of the actors—the women were no less savage than the men; Izzy Fields’ costume designs signified roles and status through elegance without any trace of camp. A special recognition should go to Daniel Gallagher who uses the entire room to create (a) shadow play that engulfs the audience in its encroaching terrors long before the classic Burnham wood approach.

When you enter the theater, you know you are in for an evening of doom. Collin Bradley (Line Producer) confronts by an almost heraldic bloodbath on the floor, you face an ominous uniset of simple set of blocks that prove to be equally suited to form the court scenes and the witches’ lair. The depiction of the bloodbath is varied and intriguing. Jacob Subotnick’s sound design ices the harrowing journey. Rachel Denise April (Stage Manager) rises ably to the challenge of managing the mayhem.

So, you could get sidetracked by the questions of casting and plot tweaks here, but you’d be paying attention to lesser issues. A history of The Globe documents that women were not permitted to act on the stage in England until 1660, well after Shakespeare’s time. This is a cast for our time.

Finally, Shakespeare’s language and the performance of it transcends that narrow focus, sending up political correctness even as it tries to assert new possibilities for all genders. 

If you watch and listen, you will see and hear an extraordinary Macbeth. The lesson here is that the passions transcend individual human concerns; they are universal. With non-traditional casting, comes the equal opportunity right to suffer…jealousy, hate, rage, greed, lust, power, love, and, the mostly absent, joy of life belong to all of us.  See Macbeth (of the Oppressed) to appreciate the language, the acting, and, most importantly the contemporary message about the human condition. If “life is a tale told by an idiot,” I’d choose this company to explain it to me, signifying everything.

MACBETH (OF THE OPPRESSED) will play a three-week limited engagement at The Theater at the 14th Street Y (344 East 14th Street at 1st Avenue, Manhattan). Performances begin Thursday, October 8th and continue through Saturday, October 24th. Opening Night is Saturday, October 10th at 8 p.m.

Macbeth tormented by the witches.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Music was Coming out of the Broken Pieces: Orpheus & Eurydice by The Trip Theatre of San Diego

Review of Tom Dugdale’s Orpheus & Eurydice, presented by The Trip Theatre of San Diego at TheatreLab NYC, 357 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor, New York, NY 10018

Viewed: July 18, 2015 

That the principals in this company have some knowledge of their source material—Ovid’s The Metamorphoses--is a given. There was homework. I approached this play with a lot of enthusiasm because I have given a lot of energy to interpreting Ovid in my lifetime. Tom Dugdale's intention is intriguing in this multimedia update of the Orpheus and Eurydice story. The online content and digital media are a snazzy structural update to Ovid's tradition of using letters between lovers. This version of Orpheus & Eurydice draws heavily on sources of 21st century angst, featuring an online romance, which results in a wedding between two people who don’t really know each other at all. Have things changed all that much since the time of arranged marriages? Ponder that, for starters.
In addition, the white box TheatreLab is a terrific venue for digital projection, with the painted brick surfaces adding texture to the dramatic lighting by Maruti Evans Tindall and Karen Janssen’s affecting films. This was a good technical production facilitated by Nick Drashner (Sound), rounded out by effective and delightfully comic costumes by Desiree Hatfield-Buckley. Kudos to the well-credentialed, earnest artists who form The Trip and to TheaterLab for giving them the space to invent.

Let’s talk about the homework first. Eight short films are meant to be viewed by the audience before attending the play. You can see them at this link.

[Video spoiler alert: Parts of two videos are advertisements for tickets for the play, and the last video refers to a December 2014 performance. While time often turns in on itself in the play, I can’t assume the December date was somehow meaningful to the July 2015 performance. I'm not sure how I feel about commodifying the play within the play. But this is not your mother's Ovid.]

In fact if you watch the films ahead of time, you’ll know quite a bit about the first half hour of the play, which reviews a number of them because the bride, of course, is late to her own wedding and the groom needs to reveal his nervousness about the unknown. During the wait, we, the audience, are asked by Orpheus’ best friend, played by The Trip’s co-founder, Joshua Kahan Brody, if we’ve watched the excellent films, but our replies are ignored. The players assume we haven’t. Note to Writer-Director-Orpheus, Tom Dugdale: This gesture made it difficult for me to tell where I was in the theatrical dynamic—a participant? A spectator? A character? My deliberation  took me out of the play for awhile. 

While my confusion about my role may be satisfying to this conception of the story, it adds to some already weighty temporal questions Dugdale raises by having us watch a film of an event that has already occurred, which we will see in the future in the play. Ultimately, however, my confusions did not take away from the excitement of watching this unconventional union unfold. 

We entered a white room decorated with white and yellow balloons. We shared a wedding toast of sparkling water with the actors. Orpheus’ artistic anguish coupled with his uncertainties about the marriage were both well-played in Dugdale’s fluid acting style. It might be interesting for him to try this again without taking on all of those roles in the production. The program notes reveal Dugdale’s anguish of being in and out of the myth, not sure where the entry point is for us in this time period, and some of those experimental entrances and exits are taxing to the energy of his play.

I’ve titled this review by borrowing some words from Eurydice, speaking about a performance by Orpheus, a rock musician, during which the speakers were thrown on the floor. As a tribute to his power, she says, “Music was coming out of the broken pieces.” This is a good description of the uneven, but often fierce and awesome, progress of the play. Some of the parts are beautifully musical.

The strongest lines of the play are given to Eurydice, played potently by Jenni Putney* (* Appeared courtesy of Actors Equity Association.) In a never-spoiled traditional white wedding dress, she gives voice to the feelings of the play. Even when she dies, there is no blood, and she seems to speak from beyond the grave: “Why don’t you see what is possible?”

Three additional characters, at times wedding functionaries, at other times guests or medical technicians, round out the cast. Actor Paul Marino, sometimes called “Paul,” gave a number of distinctive performances, and his concentrated facial expressions often provided a strong emotional track for the action. Joey Odom and Miranda Dainard also rose to the occasion of leading the Dionysian frenzy and passionate lip-synching as needed.

The tragedy of the original story is preserved in a contemporary crisis and denouement, including cigarettes, cars, and CPR. It was my feeling that the final sequences, including CPR and the film, however beautiful, could have been shortened to tighten up the action. The warning for Orpheus—do not look at Eurydice—was ignored. Maybe that was the point—in our intermediated world, do we every really see each other? It might be better to risk a look despite the consequences. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

War is unkind but sorting our memories makes us kindred again

Last night, I had the privilege of spending an evening hearing a new work by actor and playwright Stu Richel, photographer/journalist and soldier in the Vietnam War. Richel's play, Vietnam through my lens, runs through November 23 at the Dorothy Strelsin Theatre in New York. While his experiences in Vietnam form the core of the play, the scope of his reminiscence is larger, candid, and willing to be puzzled. Complemented by Richel's own photographs of the era, his lens puts a face on the American soldier, while showcasing his skill in character acting.  The story is poignant without being self-serving, and I loved how Stu connected directly with the audience--some of whom were comrades from soldiering--and how he offered meta commentary on the experience of doing the show while performing it. Actor Loretta Switt had attended the show the previous evening, drawing full circle the connection he made between himself and MASH character Corporal Max Klinger. Vietnam through my lens is clearly an evolving piece, offered matter-of-factly and in the moment, which complements the emotional truth of the piece. If I had a wish, it would be for more photos--the excellent montages by Michael Lee Stever make this performance both more personal and more epic at the same time, and their cinematic quality is like a musical score in the way it drives emotions and represents Richel's mindscape. Directed with sensitivity by Linda S. Nelson, the play makes excellent use of the black box space, and is dramatically lit by Elaine Wong. It was an honor to spend an evening with Stu and his comrades. Tears, laughter, and the process of making sense. There is closure, but there are questions. So it goes when living an examined life. 

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The Open House, by Will Eno

In 2002, during The Last Frontier Theatre Conference in Valdez, Alaska, I was awed by my first hearing of an early play by Will Eno: The Flu Season. I made a mental note to myself that went like this: "Ha!  To anyone who believed that "language plays" were dead! These critics were going to be proved wrong by this exquisite writer." Eno had taken the pastoral genre and moved its conventions to an asylum in order to explore the recovery of relationships through language.  The master classes that I attended during that Edward Albee-driven conference hammered the notion that the language made the play.
Will Eno is a superb craftsman of the word. His new play, The Open House, now previewing at Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at The Pershing Square Signature Center in New York City, is set in a beige house that seems near extinction as the play opens. The characters are archetypes of the stifled, decaying family--Father, recuperating from a stroke; Mother, masking her anxieties with forgetfulness; the grief-stricken uncle; the Grown Children, now living outside the house, but trapped in old tropes when they are in it--they know that it "doesn't have to be like this," but they cannot stop the music while there. Everyone is powerless to end the parents' arias of disappointment. The first half of the play descends through valleys of broken language and ennui to a pit of despair, forming a funeral for the dysfunctional house in poignant eulogies, a sad symphony of their broken lives. A bubble of hope appears and disappears, and that keeps the audience from sinking with the family. Just as the house becomes cloyingly depressing, the children find mundane reasons to go outside--the lost dog, the missing lunch, the girlfriend, eventually the car accident empties the house of nearly everyone. The Father, it is discovered, has made prior contact with a Realtor--a deus ex machina­--who breathes in new life in the guise of an Open House. Spoiler alert: Eventually the family is replaced by one who speaks a different language, the language of attachment. At the center of the play, the house reopens, exposing the happy potential of people who speak well of being there together.

I loved especially seeing and hearing how Will Eno could teeter on the brink of emptiness with a group of talented actors before turning the language back to hope. This is no trite Garden of Eden, however. It is the land of all of our experiences of moving on. We do that by means of speech and thought. This 80-minute, uni-set play says it all, with outstanding performances by Carolyn McCormick and Peter Friedman as the parents, Hannah Bos and Danny McCarthy as the Grown Children, and Michael Countryman as the Grief-Stricken Uncle.  A glutton for beautiful language, I am so glad I can look forward to Will Eno's upcoming The Realistic Joneses premiering on Broadway this March.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Really Free Shakespeare: Riverbank State Park in Harlem

Kudos to Pulse Ensemble Theatre for presenting Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the beautiful amphitheatre on the Hudson in Riverbank State Park. No tickets required, but first-come, first served, so once they open on July 5, make sure to go early and enjoy the Park. You enter at 145th St., and you will be amazed by this beautiful facility, designed for sports and cultural events and walking. Pulse, one of NY's longest running ensemble theatres, is now in its 8th year of presenting Harlem Summer Shakespeare, and this production will delight people of all ages. I saw the play on preview night, July 2, and the actors were pumped, their diction beautiful, and the production values professional. Moreover, in both cast and audience, the evening was multi ethnic, fun, and surprising in its application to contemporary New York. See my review on Suite101. Happy Fourth of July, and thanks to Alexa Kelly for making Shakespeare accessible to all. Here's the schedule. Don't miss out!

Sunday, June 10, 2012

There is still time to take in the soloNOVA Arts Festival. I've posted a review of unFramed, an especially moving piece by talented poet-artist Iyaba Ibo Mandigo. Earth, paint, anger, and humor make up a rich memoir of life as an Antiguan immigrant struggling against an America unkind to immigrants. Yet he persists as an American artist, and his work is a testimony to the rewards of persistence.

soloNOVA is entering its ninth year, and they have produced more than 300 individual artists. Performances continue through June 17 at the New Ohio Theatre on Christopher Street.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Muller Works Gala June 4

The annual gala and silent auction for Jennifer Muller | The Works will occur on June 4, 2011. Celebrity Committee includes Audra MacDonald and Michael Cerveris. This program will feature a recreation of Jennifer Muller's Lovers, plus special guests Drew Jacoby and Elisa Monte Dance! Check out Jennifer Muller on Facebook!