Week of October 17 to 23, 2011



This was the Week That Sucked…

But why, you may well ask, did that make this week different from any other week?

As things are now not going forward in what is laughably called Our Nation's Capital—which must really now be wherever Grover Norquist & the Brothers Koch are busily undermining Our Democratic Freedoms—each week seems either Stuck in Stasis or plodding relentlessly Backward.

As Tea Baggers might say: FORWARD TO YESTERDAY!

But this past week, the Theatre was also not especially edifying



•Visible In the Flesh Ghost in the Machine at New City: How Did She Die?

•There's the Grand Canal in Venice; Then There's the Root Canal Over on East 40th

•Woody Allen, Ethan Coen, & Elaine May Pen Plays, Relatively Speaking

•Islamic Manuscript Illuminations at the Morgan: But The Prophet Nixed Human Images!

•Beijing Dance Theatre Ensemble Moves Through a Haze at BAM!

•Young Gay Jewish Playwright Makes a Submission to the Humana Festival.

•Shtetl Tales: The Learning Play of Rabbi Levi Yitzhok, Son of Sarah, of Berditchev

•Very Athletic [Abridged] Complete World of Sports at the New Vic: Olympics, Anyone?

•Meanwhile, in Future Holiday Destination, Libya, They Shot the Bad Guy!


End of Week Rambles Summary:

Ghosts at Theatre for the New City: Playwriting Can Be Taught, But There Are Learning Curves

Personal Disclosure: Mike Leon, the nominal author of Ghost in the Machine, sent Your Roving Arts Reporter a personal letter, inviting me to see his Ghost & the Machine on stage down on First Avenue.

He also promised me a sandwich & a cup of coffee…

A somewhat similar letter also arrived from his Partner in Plays, Nathaniel Basch Gould.

Broadway Producers used to take the late Clive Barnes to lunch at fashionable restaurants. That's one reason he moved from the New York Times to a NY Tabloid.

Even though I am, in essence, Self Employed—which means No Pay, but No Payroll Tax either—I think Critics should maintain a discrete Distance from the Objects & Subjects of their evaluations.

Leon & Basch call themselves The Dead Copycats & they hope to be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival next summer with a New Play.

I have seen a great many New Plays at the Fringe, over the years. So I look forward…

Maybe a Scone in Edinburgh?

In their Mission Statement, the Copycats want to create plays about "the Character of Our Generation" [Caps added].

Whatever that may be…

The Problem—at least with Ghost—is that they also want to "redefine the Relationship between the Audience & the Stage."

But, before that occurs, it is first necessary to Get Across To Your Audience the Story That You Want To Share, in such a way that they may be able to understand what's going on.

In Ghost, there's this overcharged Guy—with Emotion to Spare—whose Girlfriend has died.

But it wasn't clear if he was somehow responsible for her Death, which might have made his Excess of Grief more understandable.

He is keeping Her Memory Alive by replaying Answering Machine Messages & looking at old Videos.

OK, but we in the audience actually see her flitting in & out of his rumpled room & also Out in the Wilderness & Under the Stars, or was this also a cluttered corner of a Loft? Not clear…

There must be a better, more inventive, way to suggest how he sees her.

Not the Noël Coward Blithe Spirit very physical appearance of a Dead Wife, however.

That was fine for Comic Effect—he sees his former wife; his current spouse does not—but this Ghost Loss seems Serious & our Hero doesn't know how to Cope.

It would also help if the Playwright could manage to make the Audience care about both the Hero & the Dead Girl.

Even with a fierce desire to remake the Theatre Adventure for Young People in the New Century, Playwrights can still use techniques that are 2,500 years old to make their plays work.

Playwriting can be taught, but reading lots of plays from Then & Now may be a better School.

Not to be a Dead Copycat, exactly: rather a Live Wire, with an instinct for Bringing Life Alive on stage…


Gondolas on the Grand Canal Are Really Grand: But Rooting Out Root Canals? Drill We Must!

Will somebody write a play about the Trauma of Dying Roots in Mankind's Gumsnot those roots in the Hair Follicles—that will make the Horrors of Root Canal Surgery less Terrifying?

Of course, a deep thrusted Injection into your Jawbone will deaden the Pain, but you can still hear all that Scraping

Another reason this was Not a Good Week!


Three One Acters at the Atkinson: But Who Now Remembers Brooks Atkinson?

The Brooks Atkinson Theatre is named for a once famed & even beloved New York Times Critic, who had no background in theatre, but who was a Quick Study.

But who now remembers Brooks? Or Alfred Lunt & Lynne Fontanne?

For that matter, who was Bernard Jacobs? Or Samuel J. Friedman?

If the Ghost of Brooks Atkinson was hovering over His Theatre last week, it might have recoiled in disbelief: How was it possible that three Performing Arts Celebrities could write such amateurish One Act Plays?

Relatively Speaking, this Trio or Triad wouldn't make the grade at the Edinburgh Fringe…

Ethan Coen's Talking Cure began with a Psychiatry Therapist trying to help a Hostile Inmate talk through his Problems.

The Inmate even suggests that this might develop into a Changing of Roles, which, of course, has been done before. Possibly on a TV Show he's watched at the Institution.

But, sad to say, this doesn't happen.

Instead, the set splits, with a new elevated set moving forward, so we can see the Inmate's Pregnant Mother arguing with his Angry Father at the Dinner Table.

My guess was that we were supposed to understand that all this incessant Bickering had affected the Foetus in her Womb, making him the Inmate we now saw in the shadows off stage right.

This—if that was the Playwright's Intention—is Pure Scientology: The disastrous influence of Pre Natal Engrams!

Pete Gurney does Dining Rooms better.

Ethan Coen should make another hysterically cynical movie with his Brother Coen. How about Barton Fink Revisited?

Anyone who saw Ishtar might have reservations about Elaine May's ability to craft a One Act Play.

On stage, George Is Dead is really, certifiably, Dead.

Marlo Thomas is embarrassing as a doofus Rich Lady whose Hubby has just died. She gives the Role her All, but it is work not worth doing.

As for Woody Allen's Honeymoon Motel, it's a distinct relief that it's not set in Paris & Owen Wilson is not in it.

At least, a lot of Woody's old One Liners are loudly recycled & he's been able to enlist some of his Allen Players to flesh out the hilarious concept of a Jewish Father abducting his Son's Bride from the Kosher Wedding to enjoy her Favors at the tacky Honeymoon Motel.

Where you can obviously rent rooms by the hour…

Relatively speaking, this was not a Laff Riot.


Islam at the Morgan: Do Not Make Human Images, So Sayeth The Prophet!

Muslims are forbidden to make Graven Images.

That's even in the Ten Commandments, although they say nothing about building New Settlements in East Jerusalem.

In Sa'udi Arabia—where they are fiercely IslamicImages of Men & Animals were once fiercely forbidden, although Movies & TV have somewhat changed the Imams' Attitudes about Imagery.

Fortunately, Persian & Moghul Rulers were not as strict as the Arabian Wahabbes.

Some of the Manuscript Illustrations from the Middle Ages & the Renaissance now on view at the Morgan are remarkable, both for their beauty & for what they show of Life at Court or on the Hunt.

But even those Islamic Artists who refrained from Human Imagery in favor of Calligraphy & Geometric–Designs created breathtaking artworks.

Orthodox Jews may not be able to write the Name of G d, but Muslims can make the Name of Allah into something absolutely Stunning!

The Manuscript Pages & Qur'ans now at the Morgan Library show the finest of such art, stretching from the Middle Ages into the 19th Century.

Especially interesting are the pages devoted to the Persian Poet & Mystic, Rumi.

In Mr. Morgan's actual Library, his Guttenberg Bible is on view, as well as a splendid copy of the King James Version of this Text.

Despite J. Peirpont Morgan's great wealth & eagerness to acquire as many Rare Books & Priceless Manuscripts as he could find, there is no Autographed Copy of the Holy Bible in the Morgan's Collections…


Dancing & Prancing Through a Misty Haze: From the Forbidden City to Forbidden Brooklyn!

These lithe kids from Beijing danced & froze & posed in a misty miasma, to music by Henryk Górecki & Biosphere.

Wang Yuanyuan's somewhat repetitive Choreography is a long way off from The Red Detachment of Women, once Chairman Mao's dance showpiece for the Western World.

That bit of Fortune Cookie Agit Prop is, however, preserved in John Adams' Nixon in China, in which Henry Kissinger joins in the Dance!


Jeff Talbot Knows All About Making a Submission To The Humana Festival…

Without actually seeing Jeff Talbot's play, you might think that The Submission could be about some Master enslaving a Masochist.

No no! This is about a Playwright who is making a Submission to the Play readers at the Humana Festival, staged every spring at the Actors Theatre, in Louisville, KY.

This is something that Talbot knows about, as he has made submissions to both the Humana & the Denver New Play Summit.

Your Roving Arts Reporter is a Regular at both events, so he must have seen Talbot's Ten Minute Play in Louisville. [They are seldom just ten minutes long, however…]

In The Submission, the Playwright might be considered something of a Master, for he's just hired a possibly Masochistic young African American Actress [Rutina Wesley] to pretend to have written his play.

The reason for this subterfuge is that he's written a drama about Black Folks up in the Bronx, which seems to be spot on in terms of Diction & Morés.

The Kind of Play a White Guy cannot write…

He has an even Bigger Problem: He's not only Jewish, but he's also Gay

Despite that old joke that Jewish Boys cannot be Gay, because their Mothers Won't Let Them, Jeff Talbot has equipped him with both potential Handicaps [being both White & Gay], nonetheless hoping that the Louisville Play readers will select his drama.

The Humana Festival is famous for encouraging Emerging New Playwrights of Color. As well as Other Minorities

[Gays, however, are not exactly Minorities in the Theatre, are they? There are so many current dramas that are concerned with Gay Themes & Needs.]

African American Playwrights have certainly made an impression at the Humana Festival. Lynn Nottage even won the prestigious ATCA/Steinberg New Play Award of $25,000!

Well, in the event, starring in the play makes His Employee begin to feel as if the Role & the Play are Hers. So, when the Awards are announced, she doesn't mention the real Author at all…

Not only does he begin referring to "You People," but he also uses the N Word. Not nice…

Walter Bobbie staged.


Moshe Yassur Teaches The Learning Play of Rabbi Levi Yitzhok How To Tell Tales at the Castillo.

Moshe Yassur was a student of Your Arts Reporter some years ago at Brooklyn College, so my admiration of his work—both as a Performer & as a Director—is of long standing.

He has even rekindled Yiddish Theatre in Iasi, in his native Romania, reviving the Original of Avrom Goldfadn.

Moshe & his talented partner, Beata Bennett, once maintained an Off Off Broadway Theatre, where they presented new European dramas that no one else in Manhattan knew about.

Moshe also staged his own musical version of Isaac Bashevis Singer's Gimpel Tam at the Jewish Community Center for the Folksbiene Theatre.

Now—almost next door to the Signature Theatre—at the Castillo, Moshe has sensitively staged Dan Friedman's drama of Jewish Immigrants crossing the Atlantic to a New Life in America: The Learning Play of Rabbi Levi Yitzhok, Son of Sara, of Berditchev.

On the open deck of a sailing ship, One, Two, Three, & Samuel bring to life in mime & song the wise old tales of Rabbis & ordinary folk in the Shtetl.

There is much to be learned here, even now, & the stories are even more interesting, accompanied by the Clarinet of Dmitri Slepovitch.


Spoofing Sports & TV Oriented Sports Lovers [Abridged] at New Vic!

These guys were just great at compressing the Complete Works of Shakespeare [or Marlowe, if you prefer] into one hilarious evening of theatre.

Now Reed Martin, Matt Rippy, & Austin Tichenor have done it again! But, this time, by digesting several Millennia of Sporting Life into a compact show.

They cover the Field, so to speak, by Eras & by Kinds of Sports, including Dwarf Tossing!

With some funny hats, fake beards & moustaches, & a few props, the Jolly Trio offer a riotous Panorama of Sporting Events over the Ages.

They even enlist members of the audience to flesh out their RSC [not the Royal Shakespeare Company] March of Time in Sports.

You have to see this show to get the Full Value of the trio's Mime & Inter Actions, but even reading their script ought to make you guffaw.

[Will the RSC make a Print Version available? Check their Website…]

How can you miss when you are quoting Yogi Berra? It's like déjà vu all over again. Or, if you come to a fork in the road, Take It!


Leptis Magna & Sabratha! Have a Roman Theatre Holiday!

Well, they finally killed that Bad Guy in Libya!

The Rebels seem to have done it on their own, with no help from US Drones or the CIA!

Almost at once, Secy of State Hillary Clinton offered US Millions to help Libya achieve Democracy, although the Nation's Oil Wealth ought to be able to pay for everything. Just as it did in Iraq

Steve Wynn was also said to be lurking in the wings, hoping to develop Libya as a Tourist Destination!

Like Las Vegas, Tripoli is surrounded by sand, sand, sand…

But what most Americans don't know—especially as they were not welcome during Khaddafi's Brutal Reign— is that the white sand beaches of the Libyan Coast slope gently down into shallow warm clear ocean waters: Ideal for Bathing & Sunning!

What's more is that near or on the Coast are some Five Ancient Cities, historically restored by Il Duce, Benito Mussolini, when he was recreating the Roman Empire as Mare Nostrum: Our Sea, the Mediterranean…

In the magnificently preserved Roman Theatres of Leptis Magna & Sabratha, Steve Wynn could not only create a Theatre Festival worthy of the Odeon of Herodes Atticus in Athens.

But he could also install Cirque du Soleil in the Odeon of Cyrene, fabled home to Simon of Cyrene, who is said to have carried the Cross of Christ, when He fell under its weight!

When Your Roving Arts Reporter was in Libya—only six months before the Strong Man overthrew good King Moulay Idris—he was struck with the tremendous potentialities for developing the Libyan Sea coast for Cultural & Recreational Tourism.

So much so, that he wrote a Scene for LIFE Magazine saluting the wonderful things King Idris had done for his country—New Roads, New Schools, New Mosques, New Parks, New Markets—with the Oil Revenues

Not only that: I was also able to make hundreds of color slides & print photos of the Ancient Cities & of the Modern, as well.

These INFOTOGRAPHY™ Photo Volumes, unfortunately, are now in Bedbug Storage over in Brooklyn.

Otherwise, I'd have put them online so all could see what riches still exist in this Desert Paradise.

It was almost an accident that I was able to photograph Libya BQ—Before Qadaffi—as I was planning to fly from Kano in Nigeria, onward to Paris.

But a former student in the University of Maryland Overseas Program was stationed with the US Airforce in Tripoli—we had Airbases also in Benghazi & elsewhere, for International Security of the Free World—so he invited me to make a Stop Over.

I was even driven out into the Libyan Desert—in a Jeep—to photograph The Lady of Garian.

American & British War Prisoners, taken by Rommel's Afrika Corps, were confined in a below ground level prison, carved out of the rock beneath the sand.

They had painted this Cover Girl on the rock walls of their jail.

Nearby, the Arabs of Garian also lived below ground, in houses carved out of the rock, with the sun streaming down into their narrow enclosures!

Now, you soon will be able to see all these wonders for yourselves, thanks to Secretary of State Clinton & possibly to Steve Wynn?



This Week's Rational Ratings—

The Dead Copycats' GHOST IN THE MACHINE [not rated]


: An Unholy Trio…

Ethan Coen's



Elaine May's


Woody Allen's


Beijing Dance Theatre's



Jeff Talbot's


Dan Friedman's


The Reduced Shakespeare Company's



Caricature of Glenn Loney in header is by Sam Norkin.

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