theater

Ishmael Reed's new Play "The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda" Opens at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe

Ishmael Reed's new play "The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda" will premiere at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in May, after four sold-out readings and coverage from the New York Times, New Yorker magazine, the Observer, the Paris Review and more. Like theater in the time of Bertolt Brecht or the WPA, Reed's new work (under the direction of multiple AUDELCO winner Rome Neal) challenges the narrative of commercial theater and mainstream historical accounts. According to historian Ron Chernow and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Alexander Hamilton was an abolitionist, even though the real Hamilton was involved in the slave trade in a variety of ways.His policy toward Native-Americans was "extirpation." Reed's play brings to the forefront those characters who are absent from “Hamilton, The Revolution": slaves, Native Americans, indentured servants and Harriet Tubman. Witness this David vs Goliath moment, as the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, Reed and Neal speak truth to power via "The Haunting of Lin-Manuel Miranda

Click here for tickets.

Advance Tickets:$25

Door Tickets (If available): $30/$20 w/ Student ID

Loretta Auditorium Presents The Body of Loretta - Texts and notes by J.P. Slote

JP Slote The Body of Loretta.jpg

Loretta Auditorium Presents The Body of Loretta. Three plays on the pornography of power, free will on the free market, and arousal in the public realm. An experimental theatre company from NYC’s Lower East Side (1980s) travels between East and West Europe before the fall of the Iron Curtain; the rise of human trafficking with the triumph of the West; the story of Loretta; the story of the collective creation of three plays. With color photos from productions. Texts and notes: J.P. Slote. With a foreword by Martin Reckhaus.

Fly by Night Press. Publication date: April 15, 2019. 156 pages. Price: $20.

ISBN-13: 978-1-7321260-3-9

The Living Hair Do

"...Here we are well into fall and there’s so much catchingup to do so let’s begin where I last left off with a brief list of gigs I witnessed, before getting to the heart of this article. There was the Zorn – Lou Reed duo which culminated with guest appearances by Mike Patton, Zeena Parkins and Ikue Mori, followed 2 nights later by Zorn, Reed, Ribot and Milford Graves who played impeccably and tastefully throughout the night and who during set two when Reed joined in, actually seemed to enjoy being “the drummer in the band”..."

"Maudie and Jane" Theater Review by Jim Feast

Review of Maudie and Jane at the Living Theater

Aside from jingoistic battle hymns, fairy tale romances and major league sports, one of the central props of the mass media’s impoverished offerings is a poisoned humanism. One can easily picture what the extraordinary play at the Living Theater, Maudie and Jane, would have been if the writer, director and actors had wanted to create a work in this category. (I am noting this only so as to be able to subsequently show how valiantly Maudie and Jane repudiates the reigning pseudo-humanism.)

If the work had been written this way, the magazine executive Jane would have been (eventually) elevated by stumbling into the reclusive, miserable old lady Maudie in the pharmacy. She would have begun to sympathize with the elderly woman, then realized that she (Jane) had repressed her own life-affirming traits, which now begin to flower in the embrace of this downtrodden figure. Jane is reborn, in such a version, and goes back to reform her corporation.

This theme, that of a hardnosed, repressed insider who is taught to “smell the daisies’ by an eccentric outsider has been the subject of innumerable plays and films, from Herb Gardiner’s A Thousand Clowns (the masterpiece of the genre) on to The Dead Poets’ Society to Irma la Douce and The Madwoman of Chaillot.

And it is always a lie. For one, it avoids the reality of social problems by, using the imaginary case we are considering, representing all indigents in one person whose mission is not to further her own life projects so much as to aid a repressed bureaucrat or corporate underling to improve her own existence. And, even aside from this and other alibis contained in such works, the topic has now been so worked to death that a current production can only evoke a response from the audience through Pavlovian means.

But now let’s talk about how the Living Theater handles the subject. And, to start, we can rewrite one of Althusser’s most celebrated lines, substituting for the word “Marxism” in this way: Anarchism is not a humanism.”

Maudie and Jane, which superficially follows the oft-rehearsed plot line of regeneration through slumming, is actually deadset against it. The play’s premise is rather that, if such a friendship between high and low were to arise, it would not solve Jane’s work problems, would not make her a better person outside the singular connection to Maudie, and would not diminish the crushing injustice of society.

The second point is the most important. Jason Robards in A Thousand Clowns or Robin Williams in Dead Poets’ Society, each playing the eccentric, do not alter their personalities. They are present only as catalysts to inspire the uptight character. In Maudie and Jane, by contrast, the drama is divided between the characters; each of whom is closed off by different doors: Jane by the siege mentality of the corporate office where protecting one’s turf is key; Maudie in reaction to having been betrayed by her husband and mishandled by social agencies. The play’s question is: Can they establish trust, which entails each becoming less defensive and dropping some treasured prejudices.

Moreover – and here’s the greatest rebuke to Hollywood humanism that can be imagined – because the two are from different worlds and speak incompatible languages, they cannot grow close by means of grasping each other’s verbal meanings. They have to approach through the physical, via action.

No matter how sick Maudie is, having a coughing fit or pissing her bed, she still makes Jane tea. And Jane shows her solidarity by her own actions: washing Maudie’s floor, changing the kitty litter, even bathing the older woman in a scene of tremendous visceral force.

And, note, voice-over narration is used to astutely suggest, in line with this theme, the disvalue of words as methods of building contact. Each time Maudie or Jane grow physically closer, one hears a voiceover disavowing the sympathy. Jane is saying, for instance, something like, “What am I doing with this woman? This is the last time I’ll ever spend time with her. I hate her.” Meanwhile, their ties deepen.

As to the actresses, with Judith Malina as Maudie and Monica Hunken as Jane, since it is the physical that primarily draws them closer, each must convey the pair’s (always wary) intimacy through gestures, mincing steps, sounds, head wags. The moves have been so perfectly chosen and played, with such expressive grace, that I (who see a lot of theater) can’t help but say the two women display the consummate displays of acting we are likely to see this generation.

But, to return to the argument, the increasing devotion of the women to each other does not improve Jane’s work life (as it would in a humanist version). Instead of reinvigorating her for the corporate realm, she quits her job.

And it does not improve class relations in Britain. In another flourish that makes against besotted humanism, when Jane finally gets Maudie to leave her flat and visit the park, after observing the birds (as they would in the Hollywood version), the women note the wrecking ball demolishing a building and leading the charge to level Maudie’s neighborhood.

All in all, the work moves at a remarkable level of intensity and headiness, reaching, at points, as at the bathing scene, to the power of a fully realized sacred ritual. By violently breaking with the saccharine conventions of a humanist treatment, the play is able to register new, emergent levels of feeling

But why do I call it (in citing Althusser) and now label it a supreme anarchist work of art? Because it presents one guiding (near blinding) truth of the political movement. That the moment one removes – dares to remove – the authority lines that govern all human relations in capitalism, for instance, the lines that declare the rich Jane can have no concourse with the indigent Maudie, then two people can, unprecedentedly, meet face to face and give birth to gut-wretching hope.

Shakespeare's Villains Theater Review by A. Hansen

shakespeare.jpg"Shakespeare's Villains: A Master Class in Evil" -- Steven Berkoff's new one-man show at The Public Theater this month -- gives us more than we bargain for. The idea itself has merit: a preeminent classical actor in a one-man revue of Shakespeare's great villains. Rather than the traditional one play, one villain -- we get eight. Berkoff tears his way through the best antagonists the Bard has to offer. The list includes Iago, Richard III, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth (simultaneously), Coriolanus and even Hamlet ("What, Hamlet a villain? How can this be? He's blonde! He's Kenneth Branagh!"). It's a fast-forward version of Shakespeare 101 with the teacher you always dreamed of, but probably never got. Berkoff mixes bold physical performance with an off-the-cuff lecture style. He introduces a character, gives a brief review of motives and previous interpretations, then plunges in. Yet his rich performances and cunning insights are only a piece of it. We get something even more powerful and unsettling than top-notch stage villainy. We get Shylock.

Let me back up. Berkoff begins by telling us that villainy springs from"the absence of love or compassion." A villain is a villain because there is something fundamentally human missing. They are lacking"the milk of human kindness." Shakespeare's villains take us in and win us over by sharing this emptiness. They seduce us with it. We see our personal alienations magnified in their own, and subconsciously, vicariously, relish as they take vengeance upon the world.

This identification with evil is titillating. And Berkoff's acting skills are unsurpassed. But this is the evil of the stage; it safely resides within the bounds of fiction. It is only theater; still make-believe. Still safe.

Until Shylock appears.

"Shakespeare wrote Shylock as this filthy creature in this encrusted cap, egg sandwich in the back pocket, old coat stiff with spit. He doesn't have the coat cleaned because he'd just be spat on the next day, and what was the point? You'd just be wasting money," Berkoff declares. With that his back hunches, his lips curl up over his gums and saliva begins to dribble down his chin. He spits out Shylock's words with a mixture of vehemence and ingratiating fear. This is not the noble and wronged member of a persecuted minority; this is atavistic, half man-half animal, Caliban.

Berkoff plays the Shylock of the Elizabethan stage. Outside of Nazi Germany, this bogeyman has rarely, if ever, been seen in the twentieth century. It is the embodiment of the medieval myth of the Jew, which is what Shakespeare took his inspiration from. What he wrote is not the result of contact with the Jews of his time. In all likelihood, Shakespeare never met a Jew in his life. They were expelled from England in 1290, and not readmitted till Cromwell's revolution. English society went over three centuries without any contact with them. In this time, it was easy for the myths to take deep root.

And the myths were horrid: The Jews were mysterious, scheming and greedy. Their religion prescribed violent ritual sacrifices of Christian children. They were the delegates of Satan. They stole and hoarded money. They were the agents of enemy countries. The list goes on and on. At the root of this myth was their otherness. While Christianity rapidly spread through Europe, the Jews held fast to their old ways of life. To ensure Christianity took a strong hold, its leaders strengthened their ranks by demonizing those who differed.

Of course anyone who reads the play sees that Shakespeare created more than just a caricature. If anything, he is working against it. Shylock is human. However evil his intentions and actions are, and however unfairly the play treats him, he still generates empathy. This is what makes him dangerous.

The famous Shakespeare critic Harold Bloom wrote"One would have to be deaf, blind and dumb not to recognize that Shakespeare's grand, equivocal comedy The Merchant of Venic e is nevertheless a profoundly anti-Semitic work." Shylock has lived on through the centuries because he was both grand and equivocal. If he and the play had been merely anti-Semitic, they would be a blurry memory. But he is a horrible, mythical stereotype made human. Given life and breath by the greatest poet of the English language. There's no avoiding the fact that Shakespeare's influence was not always benevolent.

And so, at the end of a century that has sought to infuse the stage with political correctness, we are presented with Berkoff's racist stereotype. What does he hope to accomplish with it? His Shylock is vital because it sheds light on the play's terrible legacy. Bloom was not alone when he observed that Merchant was"more of an incitement to anti-semitism than The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion." This forgery of Jewish doctrine -- written in czarist Russia and used to justify the infamous pogroms of the time -- was later adopted (along with Merchant) as gospel by the Third Reich.

Watching Berkoff writhe and scheme and spit is like watching a window to the past. Through it we see the history of Shylock. We see his influence, and the effect is chilling. Unlike the other villains Berkoff portrays, Shylock exists in the real world. His shadow falls far across our past and spills into the present. Its blackness doesn't fade, even after the lights come up.