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Tag Archive | "New York"

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Review: Other Desert Cities, Old Vic Theatre

Posted on 27 March 2014 by Senne Vercouteren

Other Desert CitiesSet in-the-round at the Old Vic, Other Desert Cities brings a truly American family drama to the famous British stage. New York-based writer Brooke Wyeth (Martha Plimpton) spends Christmas with her parents in the Californian desert and only hours after her arrival drops a bombshell on them and her brother Trip (Daniel Lapaine): she is going to follow up her successful novel with another book.

After some initial merriment (Brooke has been severely depressed and is still taking antidepressants), she announces it won’t be fiction this time. Her manuscript, which she has brought with her and has already sold to a publisher, contains the real-life story of her older brother Henry; how he was ostracised because of his political affiliation and killed himself by jumping off a boat.

Brooke’s parents were the reason for this, being fully-fledged Republicans who counted Ronald and Nancy Reagan amongst their closest friends (and who are indeed both actors-turned-politicians, like Reagan himself). Henry turned out a left-wing radical, and his involvement (however indirect) in an act of political violence was enough to close the door on him indefinitely. The memoirs, it is sorely felt, will show Polly and Lyman Wyeth (Sinéad Cusack and Peter Egan, both on top form) to be heartless monsters in the autumn of their lives. The problem becomes clear and the lines are drawn: should the story be published? Jon Robin Baitz has written an intriguing first act and Lindsay Posner brings it all to life through meticulous and supremely engaging performances, all mounting up to the question whether this family will make it at all.

The second act offers a fast-paced and thrilling answer that I cannot disclose even in the slightest, except saying that the ingenious writing will have you laughing, crying and pondering on the bigger issues in life. The way California plays a role not quite in the background; the politics that enter private lives like thieves in the night; and, not least, the central figure of the writer struggling with family, truth and the ethics of her craft. The additional spice comes from Polly’s sister Silda (wonderful acting from Clare Higgins), an ex-alcoholic who seems to side with Brooke more and more and turns out to have an unexpectedly strong voice in the family business.

With its subtly shifting allegiances, reflections on American politics and the age of fear all condensed into an insightful view of a family at war, Other Desert Cities is a joy to watch and a rich experience that will not be forgotten easily.

Other Desert Cities is playing at the Old Vic until 24 May. For more information and tickets, see the Old Vic Theatre website. Photo by Johan Persson.

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren

Senne Vercouteren graduated from the Courtauld Institute in 2013 and is now an emerging theatre producer, currently working on the MACP at Birkbeck. He is passionate about theatre, Kanye West and fast cars. @SenneVercoutere

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New York Review: The Old Friends, Signature Theatre

Posted on 18 October 2013 by Holly O'Mahony

The Old Friends Signature Theatre

Nestled in a Texan home that’s torn between the glamorous rebellion of 60s America and the conservative traditionalists of the previous generation, we find the characters of Horton Foote’s play The Old Friends.

The opening scene of Michael Wilson’s production alludes to the disconcerting lack of communication that permeates Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. We look into a room occupied by three characters whose values, morals and principles are discordant, and this frustrated and jarring atmosphere fills the communal space that they are forced to share. Questions of genuine concern for the missing guests are posed by the matriarch of the family, Mamie Borden (Lois Smith), but are left hanging by her spoilt, rowdy daughter Julia (Veanne Cox) and bullying son-in-law Albert (Adam LeFevre), whose silences speak greater volumes about all three discontented lives than answers ever could.

We are faced with domestic dissonance that lies between the traditional values of Mamie, and those of Adam and Julia who lead a selfish lifestyle, with readily disposable money, land and relationships. They are ignorant to the wants and needs of Mamie, dominating every corner of the shared space with their lavish and excessive ways. What can this incompatible mother and daughter possibly offer one another? In her desperation to be looked after, Mamie sold the house to Adam and Julia (prior to the play’s beginning), leaving her marooned in their world of irresponsible flamboyance and decaying social order.

This discordance in values that takes precedence over the characters in the opening scenes of the play becomes less individualistic with the entry of Sibyl (Hallie Foote ) and Howard (Cotter Smith), who share an appreciation for Mamie’s old-worldly values. At the same time, Gertrude (Betty Buckley) enters the scene and evidently becomes a crony of Julia and Adam’s, as her excessive drinking, bargaining and partying leads the three to form close ties. The individual characters have sought out and acknowledged who is of their own frame of mind, leaving us with two clearly divided groups: those who treasure and honour family ties, and those whose second-generation wealth and 60’s party-going lifestyle has uprooted their roots and stamped upon any sense of hereditary ties to the land that made their forefathers proud. Indeed, these youths see the land they own, and the properties upon it, as little more than a tool to manipulate the poorer, old-worldly folk.

Both old-world and new-world cliques grow stronger as they bond with those they are akin to, but this does nothing to reconcile relationships between the two groups, nor bridge the invisible chasm that divides the household. As you might have guessed, the title The Old Friends is, in fact, ironic and as the play unfolds we hear the phrase – “we are old friends” – flow as carelessly from the lips of Gertrude (Betty Buckley) as the drink flows into her tumbler. Gertrude hides behind this phrase, not wanting to take responsibility for the slander that riddled the relationship between her father and Sybil’s, in the same way she hides from the light: insisting it must remain turned off when she is sober, in a vain attempt not to see the wreck of a bored and miserable woman that she has become.

Despite the setting and plot strongly representing the cultural turmoil and struggles that were prevalent in 60s America, Horton’s theme is timeless: no amount of money, land and material goods can buy you happiness.

Once the wealthy, frivolous youths have finished trying to out-buy the priceless treasures of love and loyalty from Mamie, Sybil and Howard, once they realise that no amount of land, money or jewelry can provide genuine human companionship or a fulfilling lifestyle, and once their last attempt to bombard Sybil’s new home with their drunken havoc fails to break the newly strengthened trio, they retreat, confused, into the world where they can buy, spend and drink their lives away.

Their departure closes the chasms of the home, and provides the peace and contentedness that Mamie, Sybil and Howard have been searching for. However a question lingers in our minds: are our human desires every really different from the next person’s? Despite the façade of pride in her glamorous lifestyle and rich possessions, Howard’s love is what Gertrude desires, what she was denied and what ultimately plunges her into the depths of her loneliness. Despite Gertrude’s belief that having had a taste of wealth, Howard will never be able to live without it, he chooses to disown Gertrude and all her luxury, in order to find fulfillment in the genuine love that Sybil is capable of offering.

Here, in the final scenes, we see the moral of Foote’s story: he was a humanitarian, believing “very deeply in the human spirit”. Therefore, it should come as no surprise at all that Sybil, Howard and Mamie – the characters who share Foote’s worldly outlook, and who honor the title of being one another’s  ‘old friends’ – are also the characters who  achieve a happy ending.

The Old Friends runs at the Signature Theatre, New York until 20 October. For more information and tickets, see the Signature Theatre website.

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The Wicked Stage: Once – A new musical “that celebrates music”

Posted on 20 May 2013 by Sarah Green

Once Phoenix TheatreMany Brits and Irish have long been fans of the 2006 indie film Once, especially for the music by Glen Hansard, known for his band The Frames and appearing in The Commitments: the song he wrote with co-star Markéta Irglová, ‘Falling Slowly’, won them an Academy Award for best song. The plot of the film, as is typical of many indie films, is not necessarily a happy one and the film doesn’t r0und off with a clichéd ending. But it is adorable. So I was beyond excited to hear it was going to be a stage musical.

The confusing part is that although Once is an Irish film and the musical’s creative team is largely Anglo-Irish, the musical had its workshop and world premiere in New York at the Off-Broadway theatre The New York Theater Workshop. Due to its success, the show transferred to the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre on Broadway, where it has been playing for over a year. It was also very successful at the 2012 Tony Awards, winning best musical, best book of a musical, best actor in a musical, best direction of a musical, best scene design, best orchestration, best sound design and best lighting design.

It is sad that such a successful and different show, with its use of actor-musicians and minimal set, had to start life in New York. London has small off-West End theatres but not in the same way New York has off-Broadway and even off-off-Broadway. It was perhaps for the best it got to be nurtured at the Theater Workshop which has also helped develop the musical Rent and premier work from playwrights such as Tony Kushner. I am unsure if we could have created such a loveable show here in the UK or if we had if it would have been taken to the hearts of Broadway as it has been on being transferred.

However it has now been taken to our hearts in London, too, and the UK production opened last month at the Phoenix Theatre. Interestingly with a lead actor, Declan Bennett, who is a British performer but spent the past seven years working in New York on shows such as American Idiot. He originally auditioned for the role of Guy on Broadway before being asked to take the role in London. The British connection is being deepened in New York currently as two British performers Arthur Darvill (Doctor Who’s Rory) and Joanna Christie (Equus opposite Daniel Radcliffe) have just opened as the new lead characters.

Once is one of those musicals that seems to come along every so often and just dismisses what a musical has to be. It is not a loud megamusical and neither is it a traditional musical comedy, as some of the creative team have been quoted as saying “it is a show that celebrates music”, which is perhaps why it excites me so much.

Image: Once The Musical at the Phoenix Theatre

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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AYT USA: Judgey at the gym – the power of words

Posted on 30 January 2013 by Sophie Schulman

AYT USA

This was one of those weeks for me where everything seemed to centre around one theme. Like when you learn a new word and then suddenly you see it everywhere and realise you’ve been skimming over it for years? Well, since moving to the city, I think I’ve been skimming over the power of words themselves, and how they can affect our creative environment.

One of my many jobs in the city is working at a very classy gym. As part of my compensation, I get a free membership, which I use liberally. The classes are amazing, plus they are free. The free part is my favorite part.

A couple of weeks ago, I was waiting outside the dance studio for one of these classes to begin, and happened to hear a very unsettling conversation involving a good number of the women in the hallway. They were all talking about the gift they’d purchased for the teacher as an end of the year thank you. The exchange went something like this (names have been changed):

Woman A: Megan got everyone’s attention at the end of class so we could give it to him.

Woman B: Megan? Who’s Megan?

Woman A: Oh, you know! Megan! The tall, beautiful dancer.

Woman C: I don’t think she’s a beautiful dancer. She dances kind of like Gumby.

Excuse me, what? Let’s back up here. Did I mention this class was at the gym? This is not American Ballet Theater folks. People are here to burn some calories, not to show off their Baryshnikov-like leaps! I was absolutely appalled by her rudeness. I would never have expected such “mean girl” behavior from a grown woman. Not only was she bad-mouthing some poor girl who wasn’t even there to defend herself, but she was doing it in front of the whole class. And the insult itself was just so low. I subsequently felt constantly judged during my workout, and probably always will.

Just a few days later, I had another experience which proved to me how powerful off-hand comments can be. I was randomly Googling my mother — don’t ask — and I came across a quote on someone’s blog. The author said that my mother had, “read [her] poem,” and that my mother’s, “simple act of encouragement sustained [her] for a year”. A year? I was overwhelmed. My mother had made a huge impact on this woman’s life. This made me a very proud daughter — although I already was — but it also struck me as an artist. The littlest comments we make amongst our creative peers can mean so much, and we don’t even think about them.

When I was about 12 years old, Sheila Donovan, an older and much cooler girl than I, told me I sounded beautiful on a song we were singing with a large group of kids as part of a medley. I was probably very obviously nervous and awkward, and Sheila was nice enough to say something that made me smile and has stuck with me for over nine years.

So, recently I’ve been trying to be freer with my compliments. I say, spread the love! Instead of awkwardly staring at Marc Kudisch at the gym, go up and tell him how awesome he is! Okay, that may only apply to my bizarre life. But, in all seriousness, everyone makes an impact on this world. Now, it’s your choice whether that impact is positive or negative.

Image: Jogging on a bright November morning

Sophie Schulman

Sophie Schulman is a proud recent graduate of the musical theatre program at American University in Washington, DC. While in school, she studied abroad at the British American Drama Academy and fell in love with the London theatre scene. She is interested in all genres of theatre, and enjoys looking at and writing about current arts events from an ethics perspective. She recently relocated to New York to work as an actress in the big city.

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